Misuse of Nitrous Oxide

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 23rd November 2022.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls 10:56 am, 23rd November 2022

Absolutely. There is definite evidence that people have been killed driving under the effect of nitrous oxide. Although it takes 20 seconds to kick in, and after a couple of minutes it resolves itself, we do not know what the long-term effects are on people’s acuity and ability to drive. I suspect that if someone has been taking the stuff all this evening and then gets into their car, even if they have come off the immediate high it surely has some longer term effect on their ability to check traffic lights and all the rest of it.

The website I was referring to looks like a wholesaler of illegal drugs under the 2016 Act. Importantly, the bottles that the nitrous oxide is being offered in suit neither the catering industry nor the medical profession. The medical profession buys it in very large quantities for its important uses. Those bottles can therefore only be being made for misuse.

Back in 2015, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs provided advice on the harms of nitrous oxide and public health and safety. It conclusion was that, although its harmfulness did not warrant control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it was important that it came under the 2016 Act. Back in September 2021, thanks to the British Compressed Gases Association—the trade association that covers the legitimate use of nitrous oxide—the then Home Secretary wrote to the advisory council asking it to review its finding. In her letter, the Home Secretary cited statistics showing that 550,000 16 to 24-year-olds had used nitrous oxide in the previous 12 months—that is significant use. The advice would inform the Government’s decision on whether nitrous oxide should be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 due to the long-term effects that its misuse can have, which, in theory, was quite a good move forward.

I understand, however, that the Home Office is still waiting for a reply. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what progress the Home Office has made in chasing up a response to that letter. I have learned from the British Compressed Gases Association that it has raised this again with the current Home Secretary, who has also written seeking guidance from the organisation in question. I gather that the Home Office is on to this, but it seems to be taking some time to get a response.

This issue was brought to my attention by the frankly brilliant campaign being run by BBC Hereford & Worcester—my local radio station—which has been working hard with local campaigner Dr David Nicholl, whom I have already referred to. It is just not David and BBC Hereford & Worcester who are on to this: not only have we had a petition in Parliament that has achieved more than 11,000 signatures, but the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction published a report on Monday that highlights all the points raised here and more. The report, which lists seven case studies from Denmark, Ireland, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK, absolutely reinforces the concerns raised by Dr Nicholl, BBC Hereford & Worcester and my colleagues present.