HOUSE OF COMMONS
First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
DRAFT MISUSE OF DRUGS ACT 1971 (MODIFICATION) ORDER 1989
Wednesday 12 July 1989
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: SIR JOHN STRADLING THOMAS
Ashton, Mr. Joseph (Bassetlaw)
Browne, Mr. John (Winchester)
Campbell, Mr. Menzies (Fife, North-East)
Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clelland, Mr. David (Tyne Bridge)
Field, Mr. Barry (Isle of Wight)
Goodhart, Sir Philip (Beckenham)
Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)
McFall, Mr. John (Dumbarton)
MalMs, Mr. Humfrey (Croydon, North-West)
Randall, Mr. Stuart (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset, West)
Stanbrook, Mr. Ivor (Orpington)
Tredinnick, Mr. David (Bosworth)
Warren, Mr. Kenneth (Hastings and Rye)
Worthington, Mr. Tony (Clydebank and Milngavie)
Yeo, Mr. Tim (Suffolk, South)
Mr. J.R. Rose, Committee Clerk2 3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments,& Wednesday 12 July 1989
[SIR JOHN STRADLING THOMAS in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Modification) Order 1989. The purpose of the order is simple. It seeks to add two substances - buprenorphine and pemoline - to the list of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The order is needed to enable us to comply with a decision made last February by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs to add the two substances respectively to schedules III and IV of the 1971 convention. Buprenorphine is an analgesic for moderate to severe pain, which is marketed in the United Kingdom under the brand name of Temgesic. Pemoline is a weak central nervous system stimulant used in the treatment of hyperactive children, and no doubt hyperactive Members of Parliament, too. Its brand name in the United Kingdom is Volital. Although we have no evidence that pemoline is being currently abused to any extent, we are worried about the increasing illicit misuse of buprenorphine, especially in Scotland. We have consulted the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and it is content that we proceed with the proposal. The order proposes that both drugs be added to the list of controlled drugs specified in class C of schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. The consequences of the Act will be known to the Committee. If the order is approved, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will submit amendment regulations, which will bring both drugs under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. It is proposed to include buprenorphine in schedule 3 of the regulations and to add pemoline to schedule 4. If the Committee requires me to outline the consequences of that, I shall do so. The order meets our obligations and the recommendations of the United Nations. If it is approved, my right hon. Friend's intention is to bring it and the relevant regulations into force by the end of September.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West): As the Under-Secretary said, the order is mainly technical. However, as drugs and drug abuse is a matter of great anxiety, I seek some assurances from the Minister merely to improve my understanding of the use and abuse of the two drugs. I understand that buprenorphine is a pain killer and is used for opiate addiction. Although extra controls will result from the order, is it the Government's policy to use the drug in the context of harm minimalisation? The Under-Secretary referred to the pronouncement of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Will the Minister say how many incidents of abuse there have been in 4 the United Kingdom through prescribing and the failure to keep the drugs in safe conditions? How many cases have there been of addiction? The hon. Gentleman said that pemoline is used in the treatment of hyperactive children. What problems have we encountered in the United Kingdom because of the use of that drug? The hon . Gentleman said that there was no evidence of abuse. If so, are we just relying on the statement of the United Nations commission? The drug is addictive. Its strength is between that of caffeine and amphetamines. If children are treated with it, they may be susceptible to the use of other drugs later. Could it be a step towards the use of other drugs? That worries me very much. In the context of the United Kingdom, but not the United Nations, on what grounds is pemoline being included in the order and why are extra powers needed? I come to a political aspect of the matter. There is always a conflict of interests between drugs companies and those who need drugs and may become hooked on them. We know what happens in the medical profession and in hospitals. Drug companies invite doctors and student doctors to a free buffet lunch and then provide technical information on the use of their drugs. Doctors are often familiar with the drugs, but sometimes do not know the consequences of them. How do the Government intend to overcome the conflict of interests between drug companies and consumers? A parallel is the way in which drug and food companies have encouraged the use in Third-world countries of baby foods that are mixed with water as an alternative to breast-feeding. That is an illustration of the way in which such companies abuse their position. How does the Minister protect consumers against the interests of drug companies? What system rings the alarm bells? The Minister told us about the position of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, but what system requires specific drugs to be added to the list under the order and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971? Will the Minister satisfy the Committee that the system is responsive? Why are only two drugs covered by the order? Should other drugs be added to the list if we are to protect consumers? How can we be sure that the system is working satisfactorily and that all the drugs that should be on the list have been added to it? Finally, I should be interested to hear what representations the Department has had from the various helping agencies—the grassroots people who are at the coal face of the problem — in view of the awful drug problem in this country and its rapid escalation since 1980. If we are to counteract that, should we not enhance the list and include other drugs in the order? I am not sure that, technically, we may do so, but the system that highlights which drugs should be added to the list is of concern to us all. My final point —
Mr. Douglas Hogg: We have had one final point already.
Mr. Randall: This is my final final point. Is the Minister satisfied that the powers under the Act are sufficient to deal with this hopeless and deteriorating problem? The emergence of crack over the horizon is making us all anxious about the misuse of drugs.
Mr. Michael Browne (Winchester): I promise not to keep the Committee more than 120 seconds. I agree with 5 some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) about ensuring that we keep abreast with drugs which are considered soft and which lead into drug-taking. I cite to my hon. Friend the Minister the experience in the United States after President Carter's adviser on drugs described cocaine as a soft drug.
The Chairman: Order. I must call the hon. Member to order and ask him to confine himself to the subject.
Mr. Browne: I was trying, Sir John, to illustrate what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West had said: even considering these drugs to be soft can lead to epidemic addiction. At present, in this country, we hit the trafficker hard but are sympathetic towards the user. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure us that we shall be harder towards the user and consider such penalties as the removal of driving licences — a severe punishment to people in their late teens or early 20s? If he cannot give us such an assurance today, will he consider that as a possible punishment for drug users in the future?
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the sitting. I was attending the proceedings of Standing Committee A, which is examining the Football Spectators Bill. I am heartened by the fact that the Government seem willing to use the powers available to them under the principal Act to specify additional drugs from time to time, when circumstances demand. It is clearly necessary that we should be sensitive to the fact that circumstances change and that legislation must be extended. I have an interest in drug-taking of another sort, which has become, if not more prevalent, more publicised than previously — the use of drugs, and anabolic steroids in particular, to enhance performance in sport. I apprehend by the raising of your eyebrows, Sir John, that you would not necessarily consider that subject to be in order, and I do not propose to stray into it. I welcome the Government's willingness to include new drugs under the legislation, and I hope that the same sensitivity and open-mindedness will be reflected in their attitude towards anabolic steroids.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that the eyebrows can be very useful weapons to a Chairman.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: Perhaps you will allow me to answer the various points that have been raised, Sir John, even if they strayed a little wide. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) that I do not think that we are soft on users. There is a considerable overlap between the offence of possessing for personal consumption and trafficking, for reasons that will be known to my hon. Friend. Therefore, I do not accept that we are soft, although sometimes there has to be a distinction in approach. We have no plans to proceed with the penalty that my hon. Friend suggests. 6 I always welcome the support of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I notice that he has been following enthusiastically behind the Home Office on the problem of anabolic steroids. I am grateful for the support that he has been giving to my work on that subject. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), who leads for the Opposition, asked some specific questions that I shall try to answer. Buprenorphine is not used for the treatment of addicts in the way in which methadone is used. It is a painkiller and is not relevant to the treatment of heroin addiction. Some heroin addicts use it not as a treatment but as an alternative drug of misuse. It is primarily, although not exclusively, stolen which is the reason for it being included in the schedule. With regard to cases of addiction, we have no figures available, not least because the drug is not subject to the notification requirements, but we know that it is used by people, especially in Scotland. There is no evidence of abuse of pemoline in the United Kingdom, but evidence of abuse has been collected by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, which shows that it is a problem elsewhere. It is against that background, together with the decision taken by the United Nations, that we have introduced our proposals. With regard to the conflict of interests, the Government have a balancing role to perform. There is clearly such a conflict between the drug manufacturing companies and consumers. I am not saying that there is an acute conflict of interests, but such conflicts might arise. We obtain valuable advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, to which we have suggested that those two drugs should be included in the schedule. The Home Office is a sensitive organisation, which has long and flapping ears. We listen to alarm bells and to what the Department of Health and police reports say and have our own drugs inspectorate. There are several sources from which we can gather information about developments in drugs misuse. Our drugs inspectorate is extremely effective in that matter. If we were to identify drugs that were being misused in a way in which they were not previously, we would probably take the advisory council's advice on whether they should be included in the schedule and, if necessary, we would come to the House of Commons with proposals. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West will remember that we have had similar Committees in the past when other drugs have been added to the schedule. There may be new drugs that we wish to add to the schedule, but the more general matter of identifying a range of drugs which may require that treatment is beyond the scope of this Committee today. I trust that I have been able to respond to the questions that members of the Committee have been kind enough to raise.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Modification) Order 1989.
Committee rose at twelve minutes to Eleven o'clock.7
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Stradling Thomas, Sir John (Chairman)
Browne, Mr. John
Campbell, Mr. Menzies
Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth
Field, Mr. Barry
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Hogg, Mr. Douglas
Spicer, Sir Jim