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9.53 am

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) on securing this debate. I pay tribute to him for his personal crusade against drink-driving, which saved thousands of lives. However, I believe that his approach to the problem of illegal drugs is not as developed as his successful case against drink-driving.

It is a unique pleasure to congratulate a Government on an illegal drugs policy. I am delighted to see the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin) on the Front Bench. She has always dealt thoughtfully and pragmatically with my questions and with the matters that I have put to her. As was shown yesterday, the Government have adopted a drugs policy that does not seek popularity by appearing to be tough. They took an intelligent decision. The Government attitude to drugs in the past 30 years has been bedevilled by attempts to seek policies that are popular in the pages of the tabloid newspapers, but such policies do not work.

I challenge any view that drugs policies--either those of Tony Newton or of the present Government--are working. According to the only European measure of the harm being caused by drugs, which is from the Lisbon monitoring group, the drug problem in Britain is the worst in Europe. Heroin deaths have doubled in each of the past four years. Drug-related crime in this city has increased by an enormous amount in the past year. The Government and the drugs tsar admit that Britain is facing a new epidemic of heroin use. Virtually nothing that we have done has worked.

We cannot exaggerate the difficulties: this is the greatest problem facing Europe, and our peace and stability is threatened by the drugs mafias and cartels in the newly democratised states of eastern Europe. Drug cartels in countries such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, where the Taleban have decided that heroin is a gift from Allah and they are using it to fight their wars, have become so powerful that they can buy Governments. Such cartels make money mostly from drugs, although they are involved in prostitution and other crimes. In Colombia, there is a war between the drug barons and the Government, and we know that the forces of organised crime will win. This extraordinary, unrecognised problem of international crime in Europe threatens the stability of our continent. The problem of money laundering will be greatly simplified by the introduction of the euro.

As with the rise in criminal activity during the prohibition era in America between 1920 and 1933, these cartels have developed because there is only one market for the drug in demand, and that is an illegal market run by criminals. In Britain, even children of 13 can obtain drugs. The figures from the Department of Health show that 70 per cent. of men and 47 per cent. of women have used an illegal drug by the time they reach the age of 24. The market is saturated. Where do they obtain illegal drugs? The only source is irresponsible criminals.

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Our only hope of reducing drug harm is to collapse that illegal black market. Drug dealers are committing the same crime if they sell a drug to a neurotic 10-year-old as they are if they sell it to a well-balanced 50-year-old. As in America in the 1930s, we have to collapse the market and replace it with a market that will not be harm-free, but will be licensed, regulated, policed and controlled. Then, if someone sells a drug to a minor or to someone with a known mental illness, they will be put out of business.

That is not just theory; it has happened in Holland. There is much black propaganda about Holland. In the past 18 months, I have been there three times--the last time with someone who was teaching young people in schools about cannabis. She explained to the Dutch that the problem with cannabis was that it made men impotent and women promiscuous, which is about as unsatisfactory a situation as one could imagine. It was interesting to see how so many Dutch men were willing to be generous with their time and energy and prove to the lady that the effects of cannabis on men were very different from what she imagined. That is the type of nonsensical propaganda that is preached about drugs.

This morning, we know that the Government have at last differentiated between cannabis and hard drugs. We must emphasise that there is a huge difference between the effects of a hard drug--a virulently addictive drug, such as heroin or tobacco--and those of drugs that are far less harmful. No drug is without harm, but young people use some drugs for a short time and then get over them. For the first time, in their prison policy, the Government are distinguishing between hard and softer drugs. I hope that, before long, a new policy will be announced on the exchange of needles in prison.

At the moment, cannabis is used as a drug of choice among young people. The hon. Member for Worthing, West rightly said that we should try to influence young people's views. There is a huge gulf of opinion between the current generation's experience of drugs and the experience---not mine; I have never had any experience of any illegal drug--of older generations. Nearly all the premature deaths of hon. Members in my time in Parliament have been the result of drug use. People are shocked when one says that.

Mr. Bottomley: Booze and fags.

Mr. Flynn: Several hon. Members' deaths were hurried by the use of alcohol, and many by tobacco; and at least one hon. Member was taking a near-lethal dose of a painkiller every day. I have often raised points of order in previous debates when the principal speaker on the Government side and the principal speaker on the Opposition side have been obliged to leave the Chamber for a fix, because they were both chain smokers.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West spoke about the first use of drugs. Heroin is now smoked, as cannabis is almost universally smoked, in this country. The gateway drug is tobacco; that is what draws people in. People's first drug is not cannabis or heroin, but tobacco, and hard drugs are often taken under the influence of alcohol.

The problems of drug use in this country are principally the problems of tobacco, alcohol and medicinal drugs. To find the place in any town in Britain with the largest

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number of people zonked out on drugs--walking around like zombies, incapable of communicating--we should go, not to some back alley to see the heroin addicts, but to a residential home, because 88 per cent. of elderly people in such homes are subjected to the use of neuroleptic drugs that they do not need.

There is enormous misuse of antibiotics and medicinal drugs on animals in this country. The animals do not have illnesses, but drugs are used to promote growth and to prevent illnesses that they might get.

Drugs are misused on an unimaginably vast scale. Significantly, every year 120,000 people die of tobacco use; between 25,000 and 40,000 of alcohol use; 2,500 of medicinal drugs; none of cannabis--whose pathology I shall discuss later--and about 180 of heroin. Unfortunately, it is said that solvents should be removed from the equation, but as many as 100 people die from solvent misuse.

The myth has been perpetrated--and is believed by most parents--that if a young person starts to take cannabis, inevitably they will go through a sequence of events and end up dead in a dark alley, with a needle sticking out of them. In fact, there is as much chance of a cannabis user going on to heroin as there is of a social drinker becoming a wino or alcoholic, for the same reasons.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Some people listening to the debate must ask themselves, "What is the hon. Gentleman on, to come out with some of the stuff that he is saying this morning?" He is trying to paint a picture of cannabis as an okay drug. It is made up of 400 chemical compounds, and doctors say that, in itself, cannabis is an extremely damaging drug. If we go down the route that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, and allow a free-for-all--decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis--does not he expect that, even with his licensed control and his licensed market, far more drugs will be available, and far more people will take drugs, than at present?

Mr. Flynn: The hon. Gentleman is a drug pusher--I have called him that in Parliament before, and I repeat it--because he runs a convenience store that sells cigarettes. It is cigarettes that lead people into cannabis and into heroin. If the hon. Gentleman is serious, he should read what the World Health Organisation said about cannabis--that if cannabis was used as cigarettes were used, it would not be as dangerous as cigarettes. [Interruption.] Wait a minute; let me finish what I am saying. However, cannabis is not used that way. No one smokes 40 cannabis joints a day--they normally use one, possibly two, at a weekend--so no reputable scientist would say that cannabis was as dangerous as heroin, cigarettes or alcohol.

However, that is not the problem. We must consider young people's drugs of choice and ask how we may deal with them in a practical way. I return to the case of Holland. I am not saying that anyone should take any medicinal or illegal drug; I should like people to take as few of them as possible, and preferably none. However, remarkably, in Holland, as a result of decriminalisation, the two markets have been separated, and cannabis use has not increased. In Britain we have almost reached saturation point with cannabis, but in Holland, any outlet that sells it to young people is closed.

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The most significant effect of decriminalisation in Holland has been the effect on heroin use. In the Dutch population, it is almost unknown to find a heroin user under the age of 20, and since 1981 the average age of the heroin user has increased from 28 to 41. A larger proportion of heroin users are in their 60s there. Holland has half the proportion of heroin users to the general population that we have in Britain, and the number is decreasing. Meanwhile, the average age of heroin users in Britain has decreased from 29 to 28, and the drugs tsar says that heroin is being used by 13-year-olds.

Young people throughout the world are experimenting with soft drugs; nothing can stop that. We are not even trying to stop the use of Ecstasy. Ninety per cent. of young people at raves use Ecstasy, and the police no longer arrest them for doing so. The law is being ridiculed.

In prisons, drug use is endemic. This week, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), how many prisons he expected to be drug-free in the lifetime of this Parliament, and the Government have yet to come up with an answer. That target is probably unattainable. If we cannot keep illegal drugs out of prisons, behind high walls, where people can be searched, where is the hope of keeping them out of clubs, raves and schools? We have lost that battle, and we can only ensure that, if those drugs are used, they are used in a way that causes least harm.

As a young man, I was told not to drink beer and not to smoke, and very soon we all went out and got into Woodbines and bitter beer because there was peer pressure on us to do so. Today's young people will be given similar warnings--we all say such things to our teenage children, myself included. However, if we had all told our teenage children, for example, "Don't take Ecstasy" but then said, "If you do, don't overheat, don't drink more than a pint of water an hour and don't take Ecstasy with any other drug," and if they had followed that advice, there would have been no Ecstasy deaths in Britain, because no one dies from Ecstasy alone. In Holland, there have been no confirmed cases of deaths resulting from Ecstasy, or solvent abuse.

Switzerland can also teach us lessons about hard drugs. That country has had all kinds of problems, especially with drug tourists.

In a recent referendum, 70 per cent. of the Swiss people approved of a proposal to treat confirmed heroin addicts not as criminals, which is futile, but as patients. Trials had shown that if addicts were given heroin--not methadone, which kills more people than heroin--in a rehabilitation scheme, there was an immediate drop in crime because the addicts did not have to become burglars or continue with other criminal activities or prostitute themselves to get money. They can relax, get their heroin and try to get off the drug and lead a normal working life. That policy has worked splendidly in Switzerland. It has had massive approval and is being adopted throughout the country.

Italy, Spain and 20 American states have decriminalised cannabis and in every case there has been no increase in its use. We must understand that. Britain is following the so-called tough policies of the United States. For 30 years the USA has conducted wars against drugs. It has bombed and defoliated the drug crops in its own country and elsewhere and has imprisoned some drug

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users for longer than murderers. It has had three drug tsars. The present one is a disaster and is known as the drugs nanny. The result is that Mexico now rivals Colombia as a source of drugs, and America faces the greatest ever use of heroin. Meanwhile, marijuana use goes up and down, as its use has nothing to do with prohibition. When there is a demand people will get the drug, and the USA has the worst drug-related corruption in its history.

The policy of prohibition has never worked anywhere. When a drug is in demand, there is a ready supply and people will get it. Drug education is a blind alley, but it figures prominently in the drugs tsar document and the White Paper. The policy is based on Operation Charlie. Photographs were taken of the drugs tsar and the Lord President of the Council in a school, and on that basis it is said that drug education will work. The absurd claim is that it will work by means of Janet and John lessons given to five-year-olds. Cynics might say that that is a convenient escape from intelligent thought, because no one will be able to tell whether the policy is working for at least 15 years, by which time the drugs tsar will have retired and Labour will be in its fourth term of government.

What is Operation Charlie--the operation on which is based the myth that drug education reduces drug use? It is difficult to get details or answers, but I received some a couple of days ago. Did it involve thousands of people over tens of years? It involved 43 young children over the period of a year, and people are reaching conclusions on that basis. A report has been presented about the effects of the Ecstasy sorted campaign last year. I begged the Government to give me a copy, and they supplied assorted pages--pages 7, 8, 9, 14, 20, 87 and 64. They are concealing from me what I know. Perhaps they will admit today that the effects of the sortie campaign--which was a well-intentioned response following the death of Leah Betts--was to frighten parents, unreasonably so. However, it increased Ecstasy use.

There is a wealth of evidence from all over the world, and especially from America, that drug education increases drug use. The worst example was in the 1950s in America, where there were serious drug problems in all the major cities. It was decided to solve them by means of drug education using teams of ex-drug users. Those people had been through everything. With their long hair and guitars, they explained to the kids that drug use was bad. They said, "Look at us. We have been through it. We have been through all the drugs and have experienced degradation and sexual orgies. Drugs are wicked and dangerous and your parents do not want you to use them." One could not imagine a more irresistible recipe for young people. Young people know that they are immortal, and they are risk takers.

The policy of exaggerating the danger of some drugs has the appeal of forbidden fruit to young people. Much of what we have done is futile, and the evidence for that is in the figures. The Government have presented some figures to show that problems have evened out. I ask the hon. Member for Worthing, West to look at the figures which I shall send him showing what has happened over the past 20 years. There has been a continuous rise in all drug problems in Britain, including an increase in drug deaths and drug-related crime.

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Our policies are not working, but the White Paper suggests that we should continue to implement them. There is next to nothing new in the White Paper. We must recognise that the only way to reduce drug harm is to separate soft drug use and hard drug use. We are learning about cannabis and I am sure that hon. Members will relate stories about its damaging effects. I am not suggesting that it should be used other than by people with serious illnesses. We have found two new ways of proceeding with cannabis: I have contributed to a splendid paper on that.

New dangers and problems have been found, but so have new medicinal uses. Cannabis affects the pressure on the inner eye. The Egyptians who built the pyramids 3,000 years ago used cannabis as an eye medicine, and we have now discovered that it reduces inter-ocular pressure. The new danger is that it has damaging effects, but no one suggests that it is an dangerous as the accepted drugs of our generation.

The equivalent of six prisons are filled with cannabis offenders at a cost of £60 million a year. There are plans to build 20 new prisons, each costing about £88 million. That is madness. If we continue to persecute people for using a drug that is less dangerous than, and nothing like as addictive as, acceptable drugs, we shall build up problems. If cannabis is decriminalised, we can save the £3 billion that is estimated to be wasted by prisons, courts and the police service on chasing young people for using their drug of choice. That money could be concentrated on the real drug problems, which come from eastern Europe and south America.

People say that the policy I am suggesting has no chance. It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) is not in his place. He has said that he used cannabis when he was a young man and is in favour of legalisation. He wrote a splendid article about it. Unfortunately, in the atmosphere that prevails in Britain it is more dangerous to say that one is in favour of legalising cannabis than it is to say that one is homosexual. There is more scalding public contempt for expressing an intelligent opinion than for coming out of the closet.

I was shocked on Monday by the gratuitous schoolboy insult that was thrown at an Opposition Member for rightly saying that the use of cannabis in our gaols is seen as a pacifier. There is evidence that the Government accept that. Gaols containing cannabis users are much easier to run. People on the wacky backy are quiet and docile and do not break the furniture as they would do if they were on alcohol. Some prisoners are on alcohol. The only serious Government attempt to clear drugs out of prison occurred at Everthorpe. Every drug, including alcohol, was cleared from that prison, and the result was three days of rioting and a bill for several million pounds to put matters right.

We did not get an intelligent response from the Government. When the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) made his point on Monday, he received an answer unlike the one that we shall get from the Minister this morning.

In America in the 1930s there were those who said that decriminalisation of alcohol could never take place and that prohibition would never end. Many people now say that of drugs. I believe that cannabis will be legalised for

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medicinal use in two or three years' time, and for recreational use in four or five years' time. The Government will have to recognise that their policy is not working if they examine what is happening, now and in a year or two, when they are committed to judging it.

An American politician said in 1930 that prohibition would end on the day that a butterfly flew to the moon with the Washington monument tied to its tail. Three years later prohibition of alcohol came to an end. The prohibition of cannabis must come to an end very soon in this country, otherwise we will continue to increase all drug problems.

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