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Mr. Legg: I made some estimates of drug usage each weekend. The hon. Gentleman needs to appreciate that this is a private Member's Bill, proposing a solution to a specific problem--closing a loophole--which is what private Members' Bills should be about. Whatever views he has on other issues--he is free to introduce Bills--I hope that he will support my Bill.

Mr. Flynn: I cannot support the Bill. Many other people do not support it either, and I believe that it will do more harm than good. Indeed, it will cause more deaths.

Why do people die from taking Ecstasy? The Leah Betts case attracted the most publicity of recent years. The advice current at the time was that someone who has a bad reaction to the drug should take water. Leah Betts was not killed by Ecstasy; she was killed by a combination of Ecstasy and an excessive amount of water. The drug meant that her kidneys were not working properly, so she could not discharge water: she died from an excess of water. If she had taken Ecstasy alone she would have been all right; if she had taken water alone she would have survived. The combination killed her.

Other Ecstasy-related deaths are almost all the result of overheating. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West would only listen, he might learn something. Why, for instance, are there Ecstasy deaths in this country but not in Holland, where about a million people regularly take the drug? There has been only one death there in all these years. The reason is to be found in how Ecstasy is taken in our country. The problem is not the chemical itself, bad though that is; the problem is overheating.

The clubs allow people to dance continuously to that extraordinary music which sounds so alien to all of us. Not for them the three foxtrots that we might have danced a long time ago; they dance for hours on end in overheated surroundings. The autopsies prove that these people die of heat stroke.

If we want to avoid more deaths, as we all do, we must attack the cause of those deaths, which is bad treatment--after the event sometimes--with excess water. That causes a small number of deaths, but the main cause is overheating, because Ecstasy alters people's judgment.

Mr. Rathbone: The hon. Gentleman is doing the Bill a disservice by accentuating so heavily the deaths that result from taking Ecstasy in a small minority of tragic cases. The real problem is that anyone taking any amount of Ecstasy puts his body at risk of internal bleeding in the short term and of brain damage in the longer term. I therefore plead with the hon. Gentleman not just to stress the death count, because every single pill of Ecstasy taken erodes a person's good health and possibility of a happy life.

Mr. Flynn: I started by making that point, but I am happy to repeat it. We politicians have a responsibility to

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introduce laws that are practical and which will do good. I, too, applaud the splendid document that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it represents a major advance in ideas of how to reduce the harm caused by drugs. It is no good Parliament or anyone else telling young children to say no. That policy has failed year in, year out. Every year we hold a drugs debate. Every year, hanging over the Chamber in that debate, is a statistic that mocks our efforts. Every year more people use drugs than before--that is true of the past 20 years. Next year, again, we shall be told that more people are using illegal drugs.

The Government's policy statement, "Tackling Drugs Together", was a major event in itself. It stated:

That is the best we can do, because drug use is now endemic among our young people. Whatever laws we bring in, that is set to continue.

The great damage that this Bill might do has been described by that highly responsible body, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which has written to many hon. Members pointing out the difficulties. The Bill would stop drugs being sold in clubs. For goodness sake! In my constituency, there is some use of amphetamines, less of crack, and some of LSD, but the fashionable drug among children is alcohol. They do not buy it in clubs--they buy it during the day in supermarkets. They then consume it outside the supermarkets, where they can buy it at a third of the normal price. They enter the clubs already inebriated. If the Bill is passed, the source of supply will move from the clubs to the streets, where there will be even less control or restraint. That would merely serve to increase the dangers.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West mentioned people who support the Bill, but all the outreach workers and those working on harm minimisation are critical of its effects. They say that drug use will continue, and that by far the most dangerous drugs in circulation are alcohol and tobacco--the drugs of our own generation. We know, for instance, that young people who smoke are 22 times more likely to go on to illegal drugs than non-smokers; and 95 per cent. of first-time hard drug users are people under the influence of alcohol. No wonder, then, that young people with a different drug of choice turn to us and say, "There you are in your Parliament with its 15 bars telling us not to do drugs--you standing there with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and a couple of paracetamols in your pocket for your headache tomorrow morning."

I remind the House that, in 1994, 585 people were killed by paracetamol; in the same year there were three deaths from Ecstasy. That puts the matter in perspective.

Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that deaths from paracetamol usually occur because people consume too much of the product--often by accident--either because they believe that twice the dose will cure the cold more quickly or because they do not realise that it is included in other products?

Mr. Flynn: Paracetamol is contained in 570 products--most people do not realise that--and among medicinal drugs it is the major killer. I have been active in ensuring

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that such products are properly labelled, and in trying to get the antidote included. We can solve this problem easily. The drug destroys an element of the liver called methonime. A product containing the antidote is now available, and I hope that everyone will start to use it. We could easily solve the paracetamol overdose problem, but I am afraid that the cynical drugs trade is wary of any campaign against paracetamol, knowing that a campaign for a safe form of the drug would involve advertising just how deadly dangerous products like Night Nurse and Lemsip are.

I do not question the intentions of the Bill's promoter, but I believe that it would be wrong to rush it through the House, in view of all the objections from serious people who say that it could do harm. Good practice in clubs means allowing young people to chill out in a designated area so that they do not overheat. Some clubs already do that and have water to hand, but they make sure that the amount of water drunk is limited. We must therefore tell young people, "Don't do it, but if you do do it do not overheat, and drink no more than a pint of water an hour."

The conscientious clubs would be penalised by the Bill. That is not my view, but that of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It says that evidence that clubs are implementing good practice could be taken as showing that the club has a serious drug problem. The police might ask why the club is bothering with a water supply and chill-out area, why it controls the length of time that the music goes on, and why it has such good ventilation. Clubs run by responsible owners could then be penalised by the Bill. I carry no brief for greedy, irresponsible and cynical club owners who have no respect for the lives of their customers, and I have no objection if their clubs are closed down because of their behaviour.

We have many drug problems, and today we had the bad news about children who drink alcohol: half of 13 to 14-year-olds and more than three quarters of 15 to 16-year-olds have drunk alcohol in the past month. They are drinking not conventional drinks, but alcoholic pops. This country spends £100 million trying to persuade young children to drink alcohol--a gateway drug to other drug use--and we know that it is drunk by 13 to 15-year-olds. I seriously suggest to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West that, when a party of 18-year-olds celebrates someone's birthday in a club and somebody buys over the counter a large amount of vodka or gin and laces somebody else's drink with it, causing that person to die--there are 150 such cases every year--that club should be closed down because it had some control over the drink that was supplied.

It is difficult to oppose a Bill that seems, on the surface, worked to be beneficial, but the House must consider seriously the truth of the drugs epidemic that we are suffering and look for practical measures to deal with it. The Bill is framed in an out-of-date philosophy which has never worked and can never work.

I once said that one of the main faults of this House is that it introduces tabloid politics that are framed and dictated by tabloid newspapers. This well-intentioned Bill is framed in ignorance. It is written with a great deal of prejudice and it is a poor example of tabloid politics dictated by the tabloid press. It could cause more deaths than it would prevent.

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10.33 am

Sir Michael Neubert (Romford): The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is clearly sincere and well intentioned, and appears to be knowledgeable about the technicalities of the drugs scourge. Ultimately, however, he is misguided in arguing with so much qualification against the Bill and its consequences. Although he may rail against tabloid papers and so-called "tabloid politics", the great merit of tabloid newspapers is that they provide a clear, simple message that everyone can understand. On the subject of drug abuse, the House must give out a clear, simple message that cannot be misunderstood. That is why emphasising all the technicalities which seem to cast doubt on the central proposition that drug abuse is essentially evil is against the best interests of the great mass of the British people, and that is to be regretted on this occasion.

My first obligation is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on introducing the Bill, which will be valuable if it reaches the statute book. I also congratulate him on having the chance to introduce a private Member's Bill--an opportunity which, in 23 years in this place, has not so far come my way. He has taken good advantage of it and is to be commended for doing so.

I support the Bill strongly, having constantly campaigned against drug abuse. I do not believe in the prevailing liberal tendency to go soft on soft drugs--that would be the beginning of the end. I am glad that the Bill appears to have the Government's support in the person of the Home Office Minister who is present today. It will be an additional weapon in our armoury.

I must, however, enter a caveat, and the nature of my reservation will become clear when I describe my personal experience. It must be said that my experience is limited--nightclubs are not my natural habitat--although my constituency of Romford has some claim to be the night spot of the south. We have several excellent clubs which provide entertainment for young people. While people of my generation may find it difficult to understand what pleasure can be gained from such experiences as late-night clubs and discos, we see every night of the week that many young people like to congregate and meet their fellows in such places.

My only experience was during the last general election campaign, which coincided with a charitable fund-raising event called "Trading Places". The daughter of the owner of one of the clubs in my constituency, Hollywood, challenged me to change places with her for one day. I took up the challenge in the spirit in which it was made and, for one day, she became the Conservative candidate for Romford, going around in a pinstripe suit with a blue rosette. At the end of a long day taking her round and letting her see what it was like to be a parliamentary candidate, I took her place at the nightclub and presented the entertainment programme there. That gave me a unique opportunity to communicate with literally hundreds of young people in my constituency and from elsewhere, which I would not have had in any other way. I acknowledge that my interest and experience are limited to that. My impression was that the club was well run and sought to maintain high standards. I remember standing at the door and watching how people were checked as they came through. Anybody wearing dirty jeans was rejected because that was not in accordance with the standards that the club was trying to impose.

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A more serious problem developed with another club in my constituency called Secrets. It attempted to run a club in north London where the ethnic mix of the community was very different and the nature of the club changed. This is relevant to my hon. Friend's Bill because the club's owners and operators experienced a great deal of difficulty when they became the object of drug dealers' attention through no fault of their own. Although the Bill is well intentioned and will be effective in so far as it goes, it tends to say that the problem starts at the club door. It is clear from that club's experience that that is not solely the case.

That successful club became the focus of criminal interest. Even people who travelled to that part of north London by train were regularly mugged between the station and the club, so even before they reached the club they were subjected to criminal assault and robbery. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West acknowledged that, on the whole, club owners are keen to run well-regulated establishments. That particular club went out of its way to solve the problem, which was not of its making, by providing buses to take customers from the station to the club so that they would not be assaulted on the streets. Once customers reached the club, however, criminal elements brought other pressures to bear on the club, and this has not been expressed enough so far in the debate.

Powerful criminal elements--particularly in London, from which I come and about which I speak--are trying to move in on any club that succeeds in bringing large numbers of young people together, and that is what occurred in this instance. There was an ugly incident involving the shooting of someone who was not involved in the fracas. Knives were produced and, even though a police station is located opposite the club, the police were not able to intervene effectively. My caveat is that it is not enough to believe that if clubs are well regulated, no other pressures will contribute to the serious problem of drug abuse in this country.

This week the BBC "Panorama" programme broadcast the first instalment of a two-part series on drug abuse, and we should not underrate the extent to which drug abuse threatens our society: it is one of the major issues of our time and hits close to home. The first programme found that some 70 per cent. of property thefts in Leeds are committed to finance drug taking in that great city. I am sure that much crime in other cities, including London, derives from the need of drug takers to finance their habit.

Drug taking is a very serious problem. Those of us who are fortunate to lead ordinary working lives cannot imagine the life of the drug taker who lives by the day or by the hour, robbing in order to obtain easy money to pay for a quick fix. It is a life that one would not wish upon anybody. That is why I think that it is dangerous to prevaricate about the different causes of drug taking and to include alcohol and cigarettes in the same category as other drugs. Although they are drugs, they are not of the same nature as the chemical drugs about which we are concerned today. Drugs destroy lives: that must be our simple message.

The threat posed by organised criminals in our midst is obvious. Since the episode that I described--which led to the club owners withdrawing from the operation and

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deciding never again to attempt to run a successful club in north London, thereby depriving people in a fairly underprivileged area of that form of entertainment--another incident has occurred in Ilford, near Romford. A bouncer was shot dead and two other people were injured as a result of a person being refused entry to a club. That illustrates the point that, although clubs may be well run, it will not necessarily stop the abuses or dissuade the criminal elements who attach themselves to such venues. We do not know the full circumstances of that incident--no one has been apprehended and charged with the offence--but it appears that some people will go to any lengths, including shooting those who stand in their way, in order to enter clubs to peddle drugs and make money.

I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill. I support it strongly and I believe that it will provide an effective sanction. However, we must recognise that we are all involved in the campaign against drugs. The police, in particular, must be prepared to work with the clubs to combat the problem. I know that they are doing so but, ultimately, society faces a major threat. We must not create the impression that by passing the Bill--I hope that it will receive its Second Reading this morning--we are effectively preventing drugs from being peddled to young people who congregate in clubs. I acknowledge that, as the hon. Member for Newport, West said, people will find other ways of procuring hard drugs. However, ensuring the good running of clubs is a step in the right direction and therefore I welcome the Bill. I am glad that the Government support it and I wish it a speedy passage to the statute book.

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