HL Deb 28 April 1983 vol 441 cc1103-7

7.6 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I beg to move that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Modification) Order 1983, a draft of which was laid before this House on 29th March, be approved. This draft order has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It seeks to add three drugs, sufentanil, tilidate and dextropropoxyphene to the list of drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is the fifth 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, we have placed in the Library of the House a memorandum explaining the background to the order in rather more detail than is possible in the Explanatory Memorandum appended to the order itself.

This Order has been drafted to enable the United Kingdom to comply with its obligations as a party to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. In 1980, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs decided, on the advice of the World Health Organisation, that the risk of abuse of these three drugs was similar to that presented by drugs already subject to international control under the 1961 Convention. Sufentanil, tilidate and dextropropoxyphene were therefore brought within the scope of the convention. As a party to that convention, the United Kingdom is obliged to control these three drugs under its domestic legislation—that is, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Under Section 2(5) of that Act, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is required, before laying the draft of an order or making a regulation, to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The Advisory Council has therefore been consulted about the régime of control appropriate to sufentanil, tilidate and dextropropoxyphene, taking into account the degree of control imposed internationally under the United Nations Convention and the likelihood of misuse in this country. The council found that there was at present no evidence of misuse in the United Kingdom sufficient to justify any control under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, in order to meet our international obligations and as a measure to prevent misuse in the future, the council recommended appropriate régimes of control under the Act and regulations for each of these three drugs.

The Misuse of Drugs Act and subordinate regulations made under it provide for drugs to be controlled to varying degrees according to their harmful effects if misused, the extent of their legitimate use and their value in medical practice. Thus, Schedule 2 to the Act, which lists the drugs controlled, is divided into three classes. Those classes determine the maximum penalties available to the courts for offences committed under the Act, Class A attracting the highest penalties. The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1973 provide exemptions from the general prohibitions in the Act in order to allow the legitimate use of controlled drugs for therapeutic purposes. Thus each controlled drug which is listed in the schedule to the Act also needs to be placed in one of four schedules contained in the regulations, depending on the régime of control which seems most appropriate, given the nature, likely medical use and risk of misuse of the drug in question.

This means that, in order to bring a drug under the control of the misuse of drugs legislation, two stages are necessary. First, an Order in Council has to be made so that the drug can be added to the list of those already controlled by the Act. Then, when the order has been made, amending regulations are needed to provide an appropriate degree of control over the legitimate use of the drug. What is now before your Lordships' House is the draft Order in Council: under the 1971 Act, this must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. If the draft is approved and the order made, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will make amending regulations, which will be laid before Parliament and be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The régimes of control proposed in respect of these three drugs, in accordance with the decision of the United Nations Commission and the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, are as follows: Sufentanil is an analgesic or pain-killer. No preparations containing this drug are thought to be in use in this country; but the drug is similar to fentanyl, which is already controlled as a Class A drug. Similar controls are therefore proposed for sufentanil—Class A under the Act, and Schedule 2 of the regulations. Drugs controlled under Schedule 2 of the regulations are subject to licensing requirements for their commercial manufacture and wholesale dealing, and to strict record-keeping and safe custody requirements; such drugs are available to the general public only on prescription.

Tilidate is also a pain-killer. It is manufactured in Germany, where it has been misused. As with sufentanil, no preparations of the drug are thought to be in medical use in this country. The régime of control proposed is identical to that proposed for sufentanil: Class A under the Act and Schedule 2 of the regulations.

The third drug, dextropropoxyphene, is also a painkilling drug; it is used in the preparation of several medicines available in this country. The proposals being made in respect of this drug are slightly more complex, since the United Nations Commission made a distinction between the drug itself and preparations containing only small quantities or proportions of the drug. The draft order proposes that dextropropoxyphene—DXP for short, in future—should be a Class C drug, and the regulations will provide for it to be controlled under Schedule 2. However, preparations containing not more than a stated quantity or proportion of the drug will be placed in Schedule 1 of the regulations, which means that such preparations will be subject only to controls over their manufacture and supply.

The relevant manufacturers and trade associations have been told of the proposals embodied in the draft order; they are already making any necessary preparations to implement them, and will be given further advice when the statutory procedures have been completed. I hope that this rather lengthy explanation of the draft order has enabled your Lordships to understand its somewhat technical nature. To sum up, the order is needed to give effect to our obligations under an international drugs control treaty. Its proposals, and those of subsequent amending regulations which will be laid before Parliament if the order is made, are based upon recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th March be approved.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

7.12 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am sure that what is left of the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for the clear way in which he has explained this order to us. It comes by virtue of the powers in a very important Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, and, also, it is directly connected with international conventions into which we have entered. I took the trouble to communicate with the Pharmaceutical Society, as to whether there was any point at all that they would wish to have brought to your Lordships' attention. As has been properly said, they are perfectly content that these narcotic analgesic drugs should be controlled under the Act.

I am very sorry that I did not have an opportunity of communicating this to the noble Lord the Minister beforehand, and I promise him faithfully that that is not a preface to putting some dreadful technical question to him, which would be by way of a trap. That is something which no Member of your Lordships' House would ever endeavour to put in the way of a Minister, or, indeed, any fellow Member who is not a Minister.

But I took the trouble to do my homework and referred back to the Act. I merely draw the Minister's attention to this in case I am right and he therefore wants to see that the order is amended. I am going extremely slowly, and it is a very small point, but if he would look at paragraph 2 of the order he will see that it states: Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act … shall be amended as follows:— Then, in sub-paragraph (a) it states: in paragraph 1(a) of Part I of that Schedule"— that is, Schedule 2— there shall be inserted and then the drugs are mentioned.

If your Lordships will turn to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and look at Schedule 2, Part I, you will find that there is not a paragraph 1(a). If you look at page 30 of the Act, you will see the heading "Part I Class A Drugs" and then there is only paragraph 1 and subsequent paragraphs. I believe that somebody, when drawing up this order, must have looked at Class A Drugs and erroneously put "(a)" after paragraph 1.

Those observations are not meant to be earthshaking in their relevance to the speech that was made by the noble Lord the Minister on this order. I am merely trying to be helpful, because I think that a mistake has been made in the order. I discovered this only when doing my homework this afternoon, but I imagine that the noble Lord the Minister will be grateful for having his attention drawn to this matter, if I am right. If he finds that I am wrong, I shall apologise to your Lordships for having wasted your time.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing out what he believes to be an error in the drafting. If that is the case—and I shall have to take a minute or two to look at it—then we will make sure that the necessary correction is made. I can assure the noble Lord that he is not wasting my time or anybody else's.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful. I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister has the Act in front of him, and if he will kindly look at page 30, which is the Schedule 2 referred to in the order, I am sure he will not find a paragraph 1(a). It requires no detailed examination to see whether that is right or wrong.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am advised that paragraph 1(a) was inserted by an amending order of 1977—the Misuse of Drugs (Modification) Order. I hope that that may clear up the point which the noble Lord has raised.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful; but if that be so—and only so that there is clarity in the future—it is not helpful to your Lordships' House to have a reference to Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which says: "shall be amended as follows", and to have a reference to a paragraph which is, presumably, brought in by an amending order to which no reference is made.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is a fairly technical point. But my copy of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended, and I think I am right in saying that in paragraph 2 of the order, which reads "(which, as amended (b),", the (b) indicates the various amendments which were made and which affected the 1971 Act. So I think that the point is covered.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am most grateful.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure until 7.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.18 to 7.40 p.m.]