THERE was a sense of deja vu this week on learning that Lord Colin Moynihan hopes to introduce a law which would criminalise use of performance-enhancing drugs, making this punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

A former silver-medal Olympic rowing cox, he was dubbed the Miniature for Sport when he served as sports minister in Margaret Thatchers's government. A vigurous anti-doping campaigner, he attempted, when chairman of the British Olympic Association, to prevent the likes of Dwain Chambers and David Millar from being allowed to represent Team GB. Sadly, he was thwarted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport whose decision in favour of reinstated cheats we branded a betrayal of honest competitors.

Moynihan hopes legislation can be in place by the time London hosts the 2017 World Athletics Championships, allowing competitors caught doping in Britain to stand trial in the UK. Yet he is slow off the mark. It is almost 30 years since The Herald drew public attention to the body-building and rave sub-culture in which steroid use was often combined with ecstasy as young men pumped iron in order to look ripped in the disco. They injected steroids, sharing needles, and we revealed how the number of needle exchanges for steroid-use in Scottish cities was as great as for recreational drug use. None of this had anything remotely related to performance enhancement in elite sport.

Narcissistic young men want to show off rippling pecs, lats, and biceps. It is performance-enhancement of a different kind – about increasing pulling power when clubbing.

This was not rocket science, given harm-reduction workers' comments to The Herald, that it was: "easy to tell the difference between a heroin or cocaine-user and somebody pumping iron."

Yet devastatingly, the method of reporting needle exchanges by HIV-Aids harm-reduction clinics and pharmacies to the Home Office made no distinction between the short, intravenous needles for injecting recreational habit-forming substances to achieve a quick hit, from the longer needles used for injecting steroids into muscles. Reporting treated all needles exchanged as evidence of hard drug use, and this informed how harm-reduction programmes were financed and regulated. Consequently, policies to combat hard drug use were based on a false premise.

Sir Menzies Campbell, then still to become leader of the Liberal Democrats, vainly attempted to criminalise possession of steroids without a prescription.

Cynics suggested that there was little police appetite for our evidence because it would threaten their resources if "real" drug use was accepted as being at a much lower level than Home Office data suggested. Disturbingly, it later emerged that some members of the force used steroids.

I spoke again this week to Sir Menzies, who is honourary president of scottishathletics and who next week is due to take his seat in the House of Lords.

He remains as vehemently opposed to leniency for convicted cheats as one might expect of a man who was a multiple Scottish record-holder and Olympic athletics team captain. "It is far too easy to get access to these drugs," he said. "Where is the deterrent when you know you can come back? They should be banned for life. Why give a second chance to people who can return four years later and reach Olympic finals and win medals?"

He finds "a certain irony" in Moynihan's belated stance. "My efforts to change the law were met with the equivalent of obstruction by the then Conservative government.

"I tried many years ago to put possession and supply of performance enhancing drugs into the same category as cannabis and other class two drugs. The then government was pretty unsympathetic to my proposal. But if Colin Moynihan, who was Minister of Sport under Margaret Thatcher, is now persuaded that the law should be toughened, then he will unquestionably have my support.

"Seb Coe's new role as president of the IAAF has drug misuse at the top of his agenda, but I personally believe that a very, very strong deterrent would be created if governing bodies were prepared to ban for life those found guilty of taking drugs such as steroids, growth hormone, and ereythropoietin."

We are inclined to agree, yet there is a compelling counter argument which may make it very difficult to enact legislation criminalising cheats.

I also spoke this week to Dr Robert Dawson, a Scottish general practitioner based on Tyneside. Though completely opposed to drug use, he considers the views of Moynihan and Campbell to be well-meaning but misguided, and potentially disastrous. "If this becomes law it will be a tragedy and a travesty," said Dr Dawson.

He is medical director for the North East Council on Addiction, and has worked with the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. He confirms needle exchange reporting remains misleading as it is almost unchanged: "Steroid users comprise 43% of Britain's total substance injectors, and even that statistic is misleading, because a single member of a gym can collect needles for dozens of fellow members. If they collect 200 needles, it still registers as just one exchange. The number of needles returned to us is so great that they fill the biggest disposable sharps boxes.

"People are going to use drugs. My role as a doctor is not to be judgmental. It is simply to minimise harm to health. I never advocate dosages or regimes."

He suggests sport has "put up the white flag" by attempting to make performance-enhancing drugs in elite sport a public health issue. "They are doing this because they have failed to control it, yet available evidence suggests maybe - maybe - two deaths from steroids in 10 years."

He says enacting legislation would be akin to attempting to make obesity illegal, and paints a picture of a potential legal and moral minefield surrounding integrity in sport, with wrong refereeing decisions, or play-acting such as feigning injury or diving, being branded criminality.

He insists doping is for sport to resolve, not the courts, but suggests such could be addressed by current legislation on fraud and reinforced by athlete contracts which might state they have never nor will use drugs, on pain of permanent suspension and forfeiture of rewards.

His logic is compelling. Those who would ban drug cheats are bewtweena rock and a hard place.