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Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill

Volume 480: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1950

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Order for Second Reading read.

4.31 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), compared the Bill that we have just disposed of to a serial story containing only the middle chapters. The Bill of which I am now moving the Second Reading is like the index to a book written in Arabic because it is very highly technical and it also, on the face of it, does not say very much. The justification for the Bill is that we hope in the near future to consolidate the law relating to dangerous drugs, a process which is very highly desirable. In order to do so, we must get the existing Acts into a condition in which they can be embodied without Amendment in a consolidating Measure. Therefore, the Bill is highly technical and rather dull, but I hope it is correspondingly free from any party controversy, as it makes no substantive change in the existing law.

The main difficulty which it seeks to resolve arises from the establishment of the Northern Ireland Parliament. The original Dangerous Drugs Act was passed before the Parliament of Northern Ireland was set up, and consequently applied, and still applies, to the whole of the United Kingdom. Shortly after it had been passed, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was set up and was empowered to deal with all dangerous drugs questions which did not relate to matters expressly reserved to the Imperial Parliament by the Government of Ireland Act. Since then, it has been customary for the Imperial Parliament to legislate for Northern Ireland on dangerous drugs only with respect to those reserved matters.

In regard to transferred matters, the Parliament of Northern Ireland has enacted measures designed to correspond with our later Dangerous Drugs Acts, and in theory the law should be the same in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland and it should be possible to consolidate separately the provisions in force in those parts of the United Kingdom respectively.

In practice this is not so, because it is extremely uncertain how the provisions in the Imperial Acts concerning reserved matters apply in Northern Ireland and because the reserved and transferred matters are inextricably mixed. Anomalies have arisen, and the net result is rather like a jig-saw puzzle where some of the pieces do not quite fit into their neighbours.

Clearly it would not be satisfactory to consolidate the United Kingdom Acts without first clearing up this confusion. The most certain way of achieving the desired end is to make a clean sweep of the Northern Ireland provisions and extend the whole of United Kingdom Acts to Northern Ireland. We have been in consultation with the Northern Ireland Government on this matter and they have agreed that the subject should be tackled in this way. It should be noted that the Bill makes no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. The right of the Northern Ireland Parliament to legislate on dangerous drugs matters within their competence will be expressly preserved.

Advantage is being taken of the opportunity afforded by the Bill to bring up to date the references in the Dangerous Drugs Acts to the League of Nations and its organs and officers, and to correct a drafting defect imported into those Acts by the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933. If the Bill is passed, the clauses of the resulting Act will be gathered up in a consolidation measure as soon as it comes into force. Its brief life will, however, have made easier the consolidation of the Dangerous Drugs Acts which is badly needed to strengthen the hands of those engaged in the suppression of the illicit drug traffic. The United Kingdom has, to its great credit, long been a leading pioneer in the suppression of this traffic. This clarification of the law will, I hope, commend itself to all Members of the House. The Bill is a short, highly technical measure, which will not last very long and will be replaced by a new and more glorious Act in the resurrection that will take place.

4.35 p.m.

We are grateful to the Home Secretary for the statement he has made on moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I am sure that the assurances he has given that the Government of Northern Ireland have been fully consulted and have agreed to the Measure will completely dispel any doubts or hesitation which hon. Members may have entertained upon a First Reading of the Bill, as to the constitutional questions involved. I am very satisfied with the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I recognise the Bill as a harmless and necessary Measure, with a view to consolidation of the Dangerous Drugs Acts.

4.36 p.m.

I want to ask one question. The Minister said that the Bill would have a very short life and that it was intended to facilitate a consolidating Measure "when the resurrection took place"—I think they were his words. My question is whether the proposed consolidation Measure will take place in this Session of Parliament. I ask the question personally, because I have been a Member of the Select Committee on Consolidation Measures and expect to be so again. I am wondering whether this is one of the Bills which we shall have to consider.

Perhaps I might say, by leave of the House, that I hope the consolidating Measure will be produced this Session. I am not sure whether it is a threat or a promise to the other side of the House to say that occasionally these Autumn Sessions are exceedingly brief, but, assuming that the Session runs anything like its normal time, I hope that the consolidation Measure will be put before the Joint Committee on which the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) served last Session and hopes to serve again, with a view to the law being consolidated before this Session is prorogued.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House. Committee Tomorrow.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]