Misuse of Nitrous Oxide

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:16 am on 23rd November 2022.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 11:16 am, 23rd November 2022

I can see my job list growing with every passing minute of this debate. I am happy to raise that with Department for Education colleagues. Education is important so that young people understand the risks they are running when they take nitrous oxide. We support an organisation called Every Mind Matters, which is an online resilience-building resource aimed particularly at 11 to 16-year-olds and provides them with information to make informed choices. Raising concerns about these drugs is important. Children obviously get taught about it in schools through relationships, sex and health education. That teaching became compulsory in schools from September 2020, so part of the curriculum is set aside for messaging of the kind that Janet Daby pointed to.

Let me turn to some of the questions raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest, for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Worcester (Mr Walker) about the legal framework and where we are with that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest said, nitrous oxide is currently controlled under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 rather than the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and there are provisions in the 2016 Act that control the supply of it but do not criminalise possession. It is an offence to supply nitrous oxide if the person supplying it knows or is reckless as to whether it will be used for its psychoactive effect. There is a legal duty on the supplier not to act recklessly in supplying it.

I was very interested by the example my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest gave about an online company who were in his words acting as a “wholesaler” of this drug. He thinks it is not for legitimate purposes to do with whipped cream or other related commercial applications, but for use in a psychoactive context. He says the website sells it in forms of packaging that would appear to suggest it would be used for psychoactive effect, and there is content on the website pointing in the same direction, including suggesting people can take vitamin B12 supplements to counter the effect the nitrous oxide has. That all points to the fact that they may be supplying it for psychoactive purposes, not legitimate commercial purposes.

I have not seen the website, but were that the case, it would strike me that it probably would be reckless. The company acting in the way he describes would be acting recklessly as to whether or not it is being use to psychoactive effect. In fact, in some ways, the company might be implicitly encouraging it, considering the content he describes. I think my hon. Friend would have a case to refer that website to the police, drawing their attention to the provisions I pointed to. There might be grounds for investigation and prosecution under the law as it stands today for the reasons I just set out.