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11.23 am

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who made an excellent speech. There is something of a cultural divide between his speech and that of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), which I shall address in a moment.

We have to choose between a permissive attitude towards drug taking, regardless of its legality, and a non-permissive attitude. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield mentioned Singapore. I recently visited Singapore and was struck by the clean and upright social environment there. Although there may be anxieties about civil liberties, I have little doubt as to which society the majority of my constituents would prefer.

While many of us who inhabit leafy suburbs and comfortable middle-class surroundings indulge in the fashionable liberalism of the late 20th century, most of our constituents live in more adverse circumstances and face the consequences of excessive tolerance of soft drugs, for example. How much petty crime is generated by people trying to raise money to pay for a drugs habit has been mentioned.

Hon. Members have to consider seriously whether to take the fully permissive route which legitimises drugs, and to include in the framework of society social rules about the use of those substances, or whether to adopt the only practical policy and stick with the illegal status of drugs and condemn their use--in which case we shall have to move somewhat in the direction advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield. Creating a permissive atmosphere around the use of drugs because enforcement does not represent the best use of police time or of our courts and punishment system would put us in danger of fostering the very culture that we wish to eradicate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on scoring so brilliantly in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have not yet perfected that skill, but I shall keep trying, although I have been asked to pilot through someone else's Bill this Session. I also congratulate him on his choice of topic. There is growing anxiety, and a sense of powerlessness, among parents about the drugs problem.

I regret that the hon. Member for Newport, West is not in his place and I apologise for commenting on his speech in his absence, but no doubt he will read my remarks in Hansard. I am amused that he regards the Bill as prejudiced, tabloid-inspired politics. Conservative Members are not usually denigrated by the Opposition for representing the ordinary man in the street. I find it difficult to apologise for that. In fact, my hon. Friend the

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Member for Milton Keynes, South-West should be proud of the service that the Bill will do the House and the country.

I shall reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West. He was extremely well informed and produced many facts and figures of great interest and relevance to the debate. I am pleased that hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber. There is no doubt about the relevance of his comparisons between drugs. He said that the drugs culture is reflected in the increasing recorded evidence of drug use that the "Say No to Drugs" campaign has apparently failed to address. We are always told how unreliable statistics can be. I wonder how much drug use would increase, and how much more appalling the statistics would be, if we were not saying no to drugs. Just because the problem has become more severe does not mean that we should give up on the policy. It is rather like saying that, because the war went rather badly for Britain in 1939-40, we should have given up and let Hitler take over the country. That would not have been a good argument in 1940 and the hon. Member for Newport, West is not making a good argument in this instance.

Mr. Flynn: There is clear proof that drug prohibition throughout America and the free world is not working. The prohibition of alcohol in 1920s America did not work. A royal commission should look at drugs policy so that we may examine harm reduction and not continually rely on a policy that is leading to an increase in drug use by giving a greater incentive, the profit motive--in a criminal and entirely irresponsible market.

Mr. Jenkin: I shall make a couple of points in response to the hon. Gentleman, the first of which I shall repeat because he was not in the Chamber when I first made it. The increasingly permissive attitude of the law and order authorities towards minor transgressors who use soft drugs is fostering the drug culture. If there were a zero tolerance attitude to drugs, people, especially young people, would not think that a little casual drug taking was all right. Unfortunately, that is the attitude that we have fostered by concentrating on the big guys rather than on minor drug infringers. Liam Gallagher and other, similar, cases give that impression, which is counter-productive to the "Say No to Drugs" campaign.

The hon. Member for Newport, West is fond of making comparisons with alcohol, but I do not think that they are legitimate. We face a rising feeling that drug taking is a fashion, especially among the young. That was most prominent in the 1960s at the big pop festivals, where cannabis was fashionable. People took the view that a little bit of cannabis smoking was all right. They said, "I am grown up and I can handle it." But more research has shown that the long-term use of such drugs is considerably more harmful than popular mythology first supposed.

In the 1980s, there was the same phenomenon with cocaine. Happily, no one has suggested that a little heroin is all right, but cocaine became the designer drug. It was said that it would not do anyone any harm. Again, we heard people say, "I can handle it, I am grown up enough." But as I have said, such drugs cause damage and we are now in the era of Ecstasy.

The hon. Member for Newport, West made it plain that he is not in favour of the legalisation of drugs. I am one of the many people he corrected; he sometimes gives the

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impression of being in favour of some substances. I fully accept that that is not the case, and it was important for him to put that on the record. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the physical damage of Ecstasy, and that needs to be emphasised. However, I fail to see how parents of young people who are trying to get their children off these substances are served by the creation of an atmosphere that hinders the effort to prohibit or restrict the supply of such substances.

The atmosphere of drugs must be shown to be not only morally wrong because it is against the law, but damaging. The hon. Member for Newport, West seemed to suggest that drug taking is on a par with other happenings in society and is therefore all right. That is extremely damaging to the fight against drugs.

The Ecstasy culture has become pervasive. I have taken the trouble to speak to people who are not of my generation, but are perhaps 10 or 15 years younger, about the sort of life style that they lead. Ecstasy is a stimulant which apparently enables people to survive an entire weekend or longer without sleep. Its attraction is that it puts people in a high state of excitement and enables them to dance effortlessly for hours on end to curious music. It is the cause, although perhaps not the direct cause, of the overheating that was referred to earlier. It enables the recipient to undertake the excessive and prolonged physical exercise which his physical condition may not be able to sustain. All the problems about overheating follow.

People finish work on Friday evening, get on Ecstasy, and party all weekend. We are talking not about deprived, unemployed or socially victimised young people, but about career people, manual workers, people who work at desks and those who are employed in the City. They present themselves as fit for work on Monday, no doubt topping up their bodies with some sort of substance to keep them going through the week. As I have said, Ecstasy creates excitement and obviates the need for sleep. People who take it convince themselves that it is not doing them any harm as long as they do not take alcohol with it. We hope that they have learnt that, but we have no idea of the long-term effects of taking the drug. No research results are available, because nobody has been taking such drugs for more than a few years. No doubt this is another fashion that will run its course and people will turn to something else.

Mr. Rathbone: Although my hon. Friend is technically correct, there are strong signs that, in the long term, Ecstasy may cause extremely serious paranoia of one sort or another.

Mr. Jenkin: I am interested to hear that, and noted what my hon. Friend said earlier about the effects on the brain of the excessive use of the drug and the unnatural substance that it creates in the body.

I shall speak briefly about the argument against legalisation. We have semi-legitimised a life style by our over-tolerant attitude towards minor drug use; legalisation would legitimise it. The hon. Member for Newport, West spoke about alcohol and tobacco abuse. It is difficult to control the use of those substances because they are legitimate, but research shows that the substances we are

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debating are much more dangerous--the hon. Gentleman may contest that on the basis of his figures--because much smaller amounts are used to produce much more instant and dramatic effects.

The problem with legalising these substances is that it would legitimise the whole culture, which is already out of control. We should not only say that the substances are illegal, but tell opinion formers such as the bands East 17 and Oasis that they have a duty of good citizenship. That duty means that sentences for such people should go far beyond the punishment that an ordinary citizen should be handed out in the same circumstances. There is a shortcoming in the law in respect of public figures, especially role models for young people such as East 17 and Oasis, who are caught red-handed setting a bad example and taking such substances. The idea that it is acceptable to hand out a caution--it was not even a fine--is ridiculous. I think that there was a case involving a footballer who had committed a crime in public and who was given an exemplary sentence. Exemplary sentences should be available for people who set bad examples to society.

People who regard themselves as responsible users of soft drugs, in respect of whom the argument for liberalisation and legalisation is often advanced, should be told that, if they are responsible adults capable of handling the drug, they should not be taking it at all because of the poor example that it sets to others. If that does not happen, we will be driven towards the Singapore model of more and more draconian punishment. That is not inherently desirable, but our constituents will inevitably demand it.

I have an observation to make about the general state of the law and order debate. It used to be an eccentric right-wing monopoly to make crime an issue in politics. Now, the Conservatives are being chased by the Leader of the Opposition and his new Labour magicians as fast as they possibly can to try to keep up with the law and order reforms that we are putting through the House. So terrified are they of being divided from us on any law and order issue that they no longer dare oppose our law and order legislation, even though many of their Back Benchers are crying out for them to do so. However, I understand that the Labour leadership have recently crumbled and will not back all the provisions of the Police Bill; shame on them.

We need to create a new legal structure in which we positively encourage good citizenship. I recall the debate that followed the statement by Frances Lawrence about good citizenship. Good citizenship cannot be taught in isolation. Morals cannot be taught; they are imbued in use by the structures in which we grow up. A moral society not only teaches children that drugs are wrong; schools must assert the authority that they represent. It goes right down to getting children to hand in their homework on time, put on their uniforms properly, turn up on time and behave like responsible citizens so that they can avail themselves of the opportunities offered by schools and so that the temptations, when they arise, are far less alluring.

In a way, the Bill is about removing temptation. The powerlessness of the police and the authorities in the face of clubs is at its core. They are a legitimate target. The Bill provides that local authorities may revoke a public entertainments licence if informed by the police that

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    licensed premises, and if they are satisfied that their action will assist in dealing with the problem.

Legitimate, well-run clubs have nothing to fear. The police know which clubs are seriously co-operating with them in tackling drugs, and which are not. Some people suggest that all clubs will be caught up in a draconian process that indiscriminately disperses the drugs problem to other areas. What do they think our police do? Do they think that they are automatons directed by legislation? Of course they are not; they are highly intelligent and responsible people to whom we owe a great debt, especially in the fight against drugs. I have no doubt, certainly when speaking for the police in my area, that they will use the power with restraint and responsibility, and where it is needed.

What about issues such as water and bouncers? If it is evident that bouncers are part of the drug promotion culture of a club, the police will clearly take that into consideration when assessing the matter. That is not a separate issue, but something that I hope the police will be empowered to consider when deciding what action to take under the Bill. They will be looking for management who seriously co-operate in dealing with the problem; where management are obstructive, we need to give the police the power to deal with and punish them. The ultimate punishment for management is not a criminal prosecution that requires a burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt. We need some effective and simple remedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West put it well: a public entertainments licence is a privilege. The authorities should be able to withdraw it if it is abused.

The Bill will not solve all the drug problems in society, and this is by no means the only drugs problem, but it is one matter on which we as law makers can act, and act decisively, to help in the fight against drugs. It removes a temptation that is being put in front of our young people. As a parent, I would like my children to grow up with one extra temptation removed, one avenue to drug taking blocked off. It is legitimate for us to do that, and I support and commend the Bill.

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