HL Deb 30 January 1979 vol 398 cc12-8

3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Modification) Order 1978, a draft of which was laid before your Lordships' House on 14th December last, be approved. The order will add a single drug, phencyclidine, to the drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is the fourth such order to come before the House since the 1971 Act was passed.

As the technical nature of these orders sometimes presents difficulties to the layman—as I know only too well—we have again followed the practice adopted when previous orders were before your Lordships' House of placing in the Libraries of both Houses copies of a memorandum explaining the order in rather more detail than is possible in the Explanatory Memorandum appended to the order itself. I hope that those of your Lordships who have had the opportunity of looking at the memorandum will find it helpful and that it will serve to ease my task in presenting the order to your Lordships' House and arguing the case for the controlling of the substance to which it relates.

The statutory background to the order is that, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its subordinate regulations, drugs which are judged to have physically and socially harmful effects when they are misused are made subject to controls which are designed to restrict their use to legitimate medical and research purposes. The drugs are listed in Schedule 2 to the Act where they are divided into three classes—A, B and C—broadly in accordance with the assessment of their harm if they are misused. Offences in respect of the drugs attract the various penalties set out in Schedule 4, depending on the class in which the drug concerned is placed. Régimes of control of the lawful use of these drugs, which have regard to the harmfulness of the drug and whether or not it is used for medical purposes, are specified in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1973.

From time to time it becomes necessary to add or remove drugs from the controlled list, or to move them from one class to another. This can happen because of changes in the international control of narcotic drugs, or because the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which keeps under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to the misuse of drugs, recommends that the situation requires it. The relevant provisions of the Act permit such changes to be made by Order in Council.

The order which we are now considering has been prepared on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the purpose of adding the drug phencyclidine to the controlled list of drugs in Part I (that is, Class A) to Schedule 2 to the Act. As the memorandum explains, this drug has a proper use as a veterinary anaesthetic and is used to control the larger animals in zoos and wildlife parks and in animal experiments. Small quantities are imported for these purposes from the United States and the import is subject to control by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The drug is not manufactured legally in the United Kingdom.

The attraction of the drug for misusers lies in its hallucinogenic properties. When taken by humans, however, phencyclidine can have very unpleasant and dangerous effects. Experience in North America, where its misuse has become a substantial problem, is that the drug has caused acute mental disturbances sometimes resulting in paranoic attacks and violent behaviour and, on occasion, coma and death. Other milder, but still unpleasant side-effects such as feelings of hostility, apathy and depression, have been frequently reported by those misusing the drug. Phencyclidine first came to notice as a drug of misuse in the mid-1960s in the United States where it is now controlled under that country's drug abuse prevention and control legislation. The main source of the drug to misusers is from clandestine laboratories. It is relatively easy to synthcsise.

The drug is generally taken by misusers orally in tablet form known as "Peace Pill" or "PCP". Increasingly, however, it is smoked with cannabis, tobacco or parsley as a powder called "Angel Dust". Phencyclidine is also frequently mislabelled and sold as a more popular drug—LSD, cocaine or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main active ingredient of cannabis. In the United Kingdom only sporadic outbreaks of misuse have so far occurred when small quantities of the drug, believed to have originated in North America, have found their way here. However, following the publicity which it has received in this country as "Angel Dust" its popularity among drug misusers could well increase. There is also a danger of its entering the illicit market on a large scale mislabelled as LSD because of that drug's relative scarcity following the success of "Operation Julie".

In the light of these facts the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs feels that the control of phencyclidine in the United Kingdom is fully justified as a measure to prevent the possibility of its misuse escalating and leading inevitably to the kind of unacceptable social problems which I have described. The professional veterinary bodies have been consulted and are in full agreement with the Advisory Council.

It may be helpful if, in conclusion, I explain the type of control which will be imposed on phencyclidine if this order is approved by both Houses. Its addition to the list of drugs in Part I of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act will mean that its unlawful manufacture, supply and possession will be offences liable to the highest ranges of penalties under the Act. In addition, once the order is made my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will lay before Parliament regulations which will prescribe the circumstances and conditions in which phencyclidine may legitimately be used. They will provide for the drug to be placed in Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1973 which will in no way limit its legitimate use in veterinary practice, but will ensure that proper safeguards are imposed to prevent the licitly manufactured preparations falling into the hands of misusers. These safeguards will take the form of requirements concerning the safe custody, prescribing and supply of the drug, and concerning documentation and record-keeping in connection with these activities. Manufacture will be subject to licence by my right honourable friend. I hope that what I have said has enabled the House to grasp the nature and purpose of this draft order. As I have indicated, its provisions have been considered by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as is required by the Act, and it is on the Council's recommendation that these changes are proposed and are before your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th December last, be approved.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for explaining the necessity to add phencyclidine to the Class A drugs in Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Schedule is full of trade names and terms such as stereoisometrics, esters and even salts. There are 99 other substances—I have counted them; some are of a most odd nature—and Lord Wells-Pestell made a good attempt to go through them. I believe this is the first time we on these Benches have had an opportunity to congratulate him on his promotion in the batting order as Minister, and I am sure he will continue to dispatch tricky and complicated questions in the House with his usual aplomb.

It would appear to be a routine matter to add one more substance to the 99 substances and products already classified in Class A, and one might ask why phencyclidine should be added to class A rather than to Classes B or C, which lists carry a slightly lower penalty for misuse, especially when some of the names in Classes B and C are familiar to most of us; for example, codene is a well known product, as indeed, during the summer, was something called fencamfamine. The latter was used when a footballer took some tablets and found himself banned from the World Cup competition. I understand he said he was taking the pills to cure a mild cold or hay-fever, but the authorities took the view that it was a mild stimulant, and he found himself on the first plane home from Argentina.

It appears that this more potent medicine called phencyclidine is anything but routine. Lord Wells-Pestell pointed out, and my own researches have confirmed, that it is a potent analgesic with dangerous and undesirable side-effects. Its potency is enough to make it dangerous for humans, though I believe the drug is still useful in veterinary practice, and apparently the side-effects are not so pronounced with the larger animals in zoos, wildlife farms, farms and agricultural establishments. I hope I am correct in thinking that phencyclidine is similar to a product which I do not see included in any of the lists as Class A, B or C; namely, kitamine. Both this and our friendly phencyclidine are called sympathomimetic anaesthetics; phencyclidine seems to be the most potent.

I have information from the United States—Lord Wells-Pestell referred to this—about the effects of this drug, especially when mixed with parsley or otherwise diluted. In San Francisco a man who collapsed in a tavern was brought into hospital suffering from a stage four coma and he discharged himself after five days—displaying all the symptoms described by the noble Lord—against all medical advice. It would appear that such a performance is not untypical of the use or misuse of phencyclidine. Other examples of misuse have been reported elsewhere in North America, particularly in Boston, where volunteers in a clinic who took various forms of this drug complained of particularly unpleasant and vicious side-effects.

Nobody would be amazed to discuss "Angel Dust" or "Peace Pills"; they were described well by the Minister. It seems that these are diluted or mixed phencyclidine. However, the House might want to know about the veterinary use of the drug, and I understand that adequate stocks of it for veterinary use are still available. The Minister made a sound case for including this dangerous and frightening drug in the Class A list of Schedule 2. I thank him for his help and I am sure the whole House will wish to congratulate him on his grasp of the technicalities of pharmaceuticals. Perhaps he could confirm, now or later, that stocks are available—I believe they can be obtained from Australia—for the pharmaceutical and veterinary use of this drug, which I understand is still useful on certain animals at certain times and in certain areas. That said, we applaud the addition of this drug to the Class A Schedule.


My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven if I did not follow my noble friend aright. Is it the intention of this order to confine this particular drug to veterinary purposes only, or will certain medical conditions be acceptable to prescribe it legitimately for human beings as well? May I also ask if he can give some idea of the quantity of this drug that has already been synthesised in this country?


This drug has not been manufactured in this country, my Lords, but I said that manufacture of it would be subject to licence by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. As I understand the situation, it is not intended to manufacture it here but to ban it completely and entirely. As for its use for veterinary purposes, it is true that there are stocks at the present time in the United States, but the United States has taken the same action which Her Majesty's Government are taking and I believe there will come a time in the not too distant future when they will cease manufacturing this drug in the United States. However, there is, I understand, a considerable quantity of it available in Australia. Should it be necessary to draw on these stocks for veterinary purposes in this country, then we are in a position to do so, but I understand there are other drugs which can perform much the same function.

On Question, Motion agreed to.