HANSARD – The Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1970


Statements by the Home Secretary etc



Commons 2nd Reading, 25th March 1970. (+ amendment to include tobacco)

Commons 2nd Reading, 16th July 1970. (re-introduced due to a General Election)

Lords 2nd Reading, 14th January 1971.

Lords amendment, 4th February 1971 (amendment to make cannabis Class D)



MISUSE OF DRUGS BILL   [Commons - 25th March 1970]


§ Order for Second Reading read.

§ Mr. Speaker

Before the debate begins, may I announce that I have not selected the reasoned Amendment standing in the names of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) and other hon. Members— That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Misuse of Drugs Bill on the grounds that the Bill omits any reference to the most dangerous drug currently available, namely tobacco; notes the comment of Sir George Godber, the Ministry of Health's Chief Medical Officer, that some 75,000 deaths occur a year as a result of smoking; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce, during the current parliamentary session, legislation which was outlined by the Minister of Health in reply to a Parliamentary Question to the honourable Member for Falmouth and Camborne on 23rd October 1967. This will not affect the debate at all. The points made in the Amendment, together with others for and against the Bill, may be made during the debate.

§ 4.6 p.m.

§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan) …

The Bill authorises the development of other and different approaches as, for example, the setting up of the Advisory Committee itself, which will enable a broad view to be taken of these problems. …..

As for the law and the part it can play, our present Statutes have substantial weaknesses which I can summarise. Separate Acts deal each with only limited number of drugs. There is no power to control manufacture, supply or export of certain drugs. There is no control over the number of manufacturers of and dealers in certain drugs. ….The law preserves an artificial distinction between narcotics and other drugs which is now outmoded, and the law is slow to operate. These are the deficiencies.

So the purposes of the Bill are, first, to establish a broadly based Advisory Council of informed people drawn from many spheres which will have the responsibility of constantly watching over the rapidly changing scene and of making recommendations to the Home Secretary.

Secondly, there will be a technical committee, called the Expert Committee, which will have the necessary expert knowledge to examine the restrictions needed to check abuse and ascertain how far they are necessary for medicinal or scientific purposes.

Thirdly, the Bill will give powers to act quickly, subject to Parliament's approval, after expert technical advice has been given. ....

To return to the new council, my colleagues and I propose that it should have a strategic planning rôle, working closely in conjunction with the Medicines Commission, the Poisons Board, the Research Councils and interested Departments on the problems of treatment, rehabilitation, education and research. We propose, moreover, that it should be directly concerned in the making of any regulations or orders prohibiting production and supply, in the classification of drugs, and in advising on questions arising on the international control of drugs. The Expert Committee will have an essentially tactical rôle: planning new controls and control procedures and monitoring existing controls. That is contained in Clause 1 and Schedule 1.

I want now to make a few comments about Clause 2 and Schedule 2. These establish a three-tier classification of drugs for the purposes of the penalties provided by Clause 25 and Schedule 4. The object here is to make, so far as possible, a more sensible differentiation between drugs. It will divide them according to their accepted dangers and harmfulness in the light of current knowledge and it will provide for changes to be made in classification in the light of new scientific knowledge.

Schedule 2 has been drawn up on the basis of the lists of drugs controlled by the 1965 and 1964 Acts in order, and no more than this, to provide for a smooth transition to the new system of control.

We have taken those lists of drugs and attempted to put them into the Bill in the order in which we think they should be classified of harmfulness and danger. …

What does it all add up to? The Bill makes it possible for the first time to construct comprehensive codes of control, based on the advice of experts familiar with the United Kingdom problems, to restrict the availability of drugs and substances produced by the "underground" in whatever way is necessary to keep them out of the hands of those who have no lawful need for them, and these can include manufacturers, doctors, and research workers, or young people….

I have already undertaken detailed consultations with the interests concerned, because of the wide-ranging nature of the powers.

Section citation: HC Deb 25 March 1970 vol 798 cc1446-560.

MISUSE OF DRUGS BILL     [Commons - 16th July 1970]

1749 § Order for Second Reading read. 4.22 p.m.

§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

…the main reason why the Bill is necessary is that the present law is unsatisfactory. It is fragmentary. There are many Acts of various kinds dealing with certain aspects of the problem which ought to be brought together in one Measure. The law is also inadequate. ….it is inflexible because, under present law, the Home Secretary cannot move as quickly as he would want to do, and should do, to deal with the rapidly changing picture both of drug availability and habits of addiction. …

the Bill gives the Home Secretary powers to counter, without international consultation, any misuse that arises. In particular, he may at any time by Order in Council bring new substances under control and make any regulations he considers necessary for the control of production, of supply and of possession. … the Bill provides for the establishment of an Advisory Council and an Expert Committee on the misuse of drugs to assist in the preparation of controls and other counter measures.

As the House will observe, the Bill divides the various drugs into three classes in, on the whole, descending degrees of danger. Those in class A are the most dangerous, the second less dangerous and the third even less so, but all of them, in whichever class they fall, remain dangerous drugs whose possession, use and distribution should be regulated by law. Those are the main provisions of the Bill….

…the basic problem is how far the community is entitled to interfere with the individual in the conduct of his own life. It is the old problem of freedom under the law. …

…if more controls are needed they must be even more stringently justified if they are to be accepted. We must also recognise and accept that any controls that we impose must be fully appreciated by those concerned. In this connection the previous Home Secretary often stressed the importance of the generation gap and the need to ensure that we, in our generation, are fully understood, in terms of our motives and actions, by the younger generation that is succeeding us…..

Freedom is in issue. It is deplorable to see people drinking themselves into cirrhosis or smoking themselves into lung cancer, but nobody proposes that either activity should be prohibited by law. There is an ethical consideration here, and it is relevant to the problem of cannabis.

I should like to give an example of what I mean by referring to a meeting that I addressed some while ago at the London School of Economics. It was a meeting of the Conservative Association, which meant that many of those present were far from conservative. One young man said to me, "You like whisky. I like pot. Why can you have whisky while I cannot smoke pot? They are both mildly addictive, but they both do little harm when taken in small quantities. They both do great harm when taken in large quantities. Why is one prohibited and the other allowed?" The answer to that question we must get across to both sides with the greatest clarity….

…cannabis is not necessary. It seems a wholly unnecessary risk to take to treat this substance as anything other than a dangerous drug. But we must also recognise—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said in the previous Parliament—that we have not made our story about cannabis credible. We have only ourselves to blame for the fact that the public, and especially the younger members of the public, do not find this story a convincing one. I hope that together we may find the means of making the story a really convincing one….

Making something illegal sometimes causes it to be more attractive to some people.

§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)

…the most important point is to make certain that the terms of reference of the new Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs are right…
…it is important that the law should be integrated so that people know what the law is and so that the law is set out as clearly as it possibly can be in this most complex field.

MISUSE OF DRUGS BILL       [Lords - 14th January 1971]


§ 3.35 p.m.


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. …

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 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. …this patchwork of legislation no longer meets our requirements. …

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. …

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. …. in future it will be possible to modify the regulations governing particular drugs without the necessity, as at present, of fresh legislation in every case.

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….

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. …


MISUSE OF DRUGS BILL                [Lords - 4th February 1971]


§ 4.46 p.m.

§ House again in Committee.


May I resume the discussion in the Committee stage of the Misuse of Drugs Bill, and perhaps in a more calm and reasonable tone than when we left off, by reminding the Committee that we are not, on these Amendments, discussing whether cannabis should be legalised? I am on record as having said that I am opposed to the prohibition of cannabis, but I do not intend to burden your Lordships this afternoon with Amendments or arguments in support of that view. I recognise, as I am sure Lord Foot recognises, that there is a very substantial body of opinion, in this House and outside, to whom that prospect would be quite abhorrent. So I am now going to speak on Lord Foot's Amendment which concerns the classification of cannabis and whether that classification is properly made…..

§ 5.25 p.m.


There is a tendency to consider this whole question in terms of our own society, but the problems raised by cannabis are of concern to many other societies as well. We can all take our own examples from the scientific literature in this country and the reports made elsewhere. But they must, by that act, be selective. There are parts of the reports which back up whatever point of view we wish to put forward. But there are other expressions of opinion that should, perhaps, be given particular attention; namely, international opinions which have been codified in the form of conventions.

The United Kingdom Government are a party to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and this requires control to be maintained over the distribution of cannabis. Moreover, we are a member of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs which continues to urge Governments to increase their efforts to eradicate the abuse and illicit traffic in cannabis; to promote research and advance additional medical and sociological information regarding cannabis; and effectively to counter any publicity which advocates legalisation or tolerance of the non-medical use of cannabis as a harmless drug. I refer to the resolution of the 22nd Session of the Commission in 1968. The World Health Organisation has assessed the harm to society derived from the abuse of cannabis as resting in the economic consequence of the impairment of the individual's social functions and his enhanced proneness to forms of anti-social behaviour….

The analogy of tobacco and alcohol was mentioned, earlier in the discussion on this Amendment, by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich; and this is often said. But it seems to me that the really significant difference is that the use of cannabis is not socialised; that it is not accepted by law or convention as a normal part of social life. Alcohol is so accepted, and experience shows that once a habit has become socialised it is extremely difficult to eradicate. For support of that proposition, we can look to what happened in the United States of America in the case of Prohibition. Even when it is proved that a substance is harmful to health, if its use has become socialised it is very much harder to stop. If what we know to-day about tobacco and the proven causal connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer had been known in the early years of this century, when cigarette smoking became common, the habit might not have spread and much suffering might have been avoided….

My third comment on this aspect of our debate is on the very great difficulty of distinguishing between the use of cannabis and other drugs. I see, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, used to see when he was at the Home Office, cases of people who have got into trouble for a number of reasons. In some of these cases drugs are involved, and over and over again one sees that the drugs involved are multiple. There is some cannabis, there is some LSD, there is another drug. It is very seldom that it is only one drug. Once the habit is there, the desire to experiment, which is very strong, particularly with LSD, has to be borne in mind.


4th February 1971 - 2

3.20 p.m.

§ LORD FOOT moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 42, leave out ("or III") and insert (", III or IV").

…is it not an appalling anomaly that we should prescribe a maximum penalty of 14 years for supplying a small quantity of cannabis and that the people who openly advertise the sale of cigarettes and liquor, which are known killers, should be allowed to do so without any penalty whatever? It is this contradiction and conflict in the law as it stands which, I suggest, brings the law into such great disrepute. It is this that causes the cynicism among such a large proportion of our population. They say that the law is hypocritical and that the Establishment in this country are making one law for their habits and another law for the habits of the younger generation.


§ I suggest that it is always a dangerous thing to legislate against something when a substantial number of people regard the legislation as having no moral foundation, and I suggest that it is particularly dangerous in the case of drugs. What can happen? It may produce a result which is the very opposite to what is desired. If you make a law which a great number of people regard as being manifestly unfair and unjust, you may very well be met with a response of defiance and disregard of the law; and you may in fact create the very thing that you want to try to suppress. I am not going to refer to the experience in America, but there is a large body of evidence, as the noble Lord who is in charge of this Bill will know, which shows that Draconian penalties in America directed at the cannabis users not only have been ineffective to deal with cannabis, but have in fact had the opposite result of driving a great number of people on to the hard drugs.

Throughout the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House, as indeed it was when this matter was debated in the other place, it was generally agreed—it was agreed by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when he opened the Second Reading debate and by the noble Baroness who replied on behalf of the Opposition that what can be achieved in the problem of the misuse of drugs by legislation and by the criminal law is necessarily limited; and that if you are going to enforce this law and deal effectively with this problem you have to enlist the assistance of all kinds of other agencies.

§ What I suggest is that if you get the law wrong, if you pass a law which does not command general respect among the public, it will have two results. First, you will make the work of the other agencies—the educational agencies, the advisory agencies, the investigational agencies and the rest—much more difficult, because such a large proportion of the population rejects the whole legal framework of the Bill. The second result is that you will make the enforcement of the law more difficult than it otherwise would be. The enforcement of the law in regard to drugs is one of the most difficult practical propositions with which we are confronted, if only because of the ease of importation, the ease of distribution, the ease of concealing these things.

§ I suggest that if the law enforcement agencies are to be enabled to do their job, it will be possible only if you can carry public opinion with you and if the overwhelming majority of people are satisfied that this is a fair and just law. If the great majority of people are not satisfied that that is the case, then the work of all the other agencies engaged in this problem will be made that much more difficult, because they will be regarded as being on the side of the unjust law and the unjust law enforcement officers.


Website: HANSARD 1803 - 2005
cf Misuse of Drugs Bill 1970 with Liquor Traffic Prohibition Bill, 20 April 1923

Also: UN's list and text of UK's drug laws (1947 - 2008)