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Clause 4—(Interpretation)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1947

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I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out line 25.

This Amendment is consequential on the Amendment to Clause 1, line 20.

It says on line 10 that

"'penicillin has the meaning assigned to it by regulations for the time being in force under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1925."
Is there any reason why penicillin, which forms the subject of this Bill, should not be defined in the Bill itself? What is the definition of penicillin assigned to it under the Therapeutic Substances Act of 1925?

Really we must have an answer to this. Here we are considering a Bill entitled "Penicillin" and apparently we are not going to be told what penicillin is.

I would suggest to the hon. Member opposite that if he expects to remain a Member much longer he ought to be concerned to see that Bills passed by this House are in proper form. It really is rather ludicrous to pass legislation and take pride in the number of Bills passed by the Socialist Government when the Measures apparently do not define the substance with which they deal. Apparently the Government are not in a position immediately to inform us why the definition is not included in the Bill. Why must we have legislation by reference? We may have to put down an Amendment on a later stage. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is encouraging me to continue with my observations a little longer to give the Parliamentary Secretary a little further time to find out what this Bill really relates to. Surely it would be far better in drafting this Measure to insert the definition in this Bill entitled "Penicillin Bill" and not elsewhere. Am I right in thinking that the Minister has power under the Therapeutic Substances Act of 1925 to vary the definition of penicillin? Because if that is so under another Act he has power substantially to vary the main substance to which this Act refers; by the side wind of another Act of Parliament he can basically alter the fundamental substance to which this Bill applies.

I admit I cannot now produce the definition which is in use at the present moment, but I can give the reason why we wish to define here by reference to another Act. The point is that we have already, as the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) has acknowledged, a Statute under which we define certain substances, and where we can redefine in the light of any changes that may be made. The reason why we put it in this form is in order that we may use words which are customary and follow the routine practice in the definition of substances, and in order that we may be able to alter the definition in due course as scientific knowledge on the subject changes. I think, therefore, we can say that it is not the actual definition at the moment that matters; it is the fact that here we have a mechanism by which the redefining of these therapeutic substances can be made.

12.15 a.m.

Is it not the customary practice of Ministers when introducing a Bill to fortify themselves by obtaining a current definition of such a substance as penicillin, whatever may be the mutations and permutations it may undergo in the future. It would be desirable to know what His Majesty's Government hold that penicillin is at the present moment.

I think it was a very ungenerous remark which the right hon. Gentleman the Member fat Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) maed in regard to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend explained earlier in the Debate that he did not expect to have charge of this Bill tonight. As a matter of fact, he has been away from his office because he was ill, and the Minister of Health was expected to be here. I understand he had to make a long journey and he has not been able to get back to London in time to handle the Bill in Committee as he expected to do. I do not think, therefore, it is fair to cast any reflection on my hon. Friend in all the circumstances of the case. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear my hon. Friend when earlier tonight he ex- plained his position in this matter. He has the definition that is in the regulations, and I have no doubt that before the Debate closes he will give it to the Committee.

No one wants to take an unfair advantage of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sorry about the circumstances that have arisen, but, after all, the Government have some responsibility in the matter. This Committee stage was not to be taken until tomorrow night, but it was advanced to tonight. If the circumstances are such that the Minister cannot be here and the Parliamentary Secretary, for reasons which are obviously valid, had not time fully to consider the Bill, the obvious course would have been to put it back to the night for which it was originally fixed. The Government would have got through the Bill just as quickly if it had been taken tomorrow night. We have no responsibility for bringing the Bill forward tonight. The Government have the advantage of experts, and it ought not to be beyond the wit of the experts to produce a definition.

Why does the right hon. Gentleman himself not look in the regulations for the definition?

When I spoke last I made it plain that I did not regard the current definition as the important point. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) had already put it that we may need a redefinition, and, therefore, we had used the reference to an earlier Act under which this is a matter of routine. If hon. Members, however, want the definition for what good it may be to them perhaps I may be permitted to read it. It is in accordance with the Act of 1925, and here it is:

"any anti-infective acid produced by Penicillium notatum, whether obtained from Penicillium notatum or not, any salt or derivative of any such acid and any solution containing any such acid, salt or derivative, being an acid, salt or derivative, or a solution thereof, prepared for parenteral injection."

All I can say is that this is not the definition of penicillin. I have a recollection, which I share with the Home Secretary, that a Parliamentary Secretary, when we were in power, was asked in the course of consideration of a Schedule "What is a blank?" and after considerable cogitation he got up and replied, "The hon. Member asked me for a definition of a blank. Well, sir, a blank is a blank." The Parliamentary Secretary, as far as I can see, has replied that penicillin is penicillin. What we want is a definition of the word.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.