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That would be a huge change, I do not think that there is much difference of view between the parties about the serious evil of those who supply drugs, especially to young peoplealthough we will hear in a moment whether the hon. Gentleman disagrees. If the result of the change is that many of the large-scale suppliers will serve only about a year in custody, there are serious questions to be answered about whether the Home Secretary's proposed changes will lead to a massive increase in the number of young people subjected to the dangers of cannabis, which everybody accepts can be a gateway to the use of harder drugs.
Mr. Hawkins: Before I give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), I ask him to say whether he can claim that there is a single user of class A hard drugs who did not start with cannabis.
Mr. Jones: I do not know whether I should thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, but may I correct one thing that he said? There are more than two ardent legalisers on the Government Benches, and a damn sight more than two on the Opposition Benches behind him.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about the evil of people selling cannabis, but while he was prosecuting them, did it ever cross his mind that there was an enormous hypocrisy in the law that categorised those people as deserving 14 years in jail, while someone who sold tobacco, which kills huge numbers of people, got, if he was successful, a peerage or a Queen's award for industry?
Mr. Hawkins: I know one thing about the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on the rearmost of the Government Bencheswho are sitting so far from the Minister as is possible within the confines of the Chamber that it is clear that they wish to detach themselves from Government policyand that is that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for legalising drugs is matched only by his hatred and contempt for anyone who runs a successful business. I do not accept for one moment his totally fallacious assertions.
Mr. Hawkins: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis; one of the reasons why I was happy to give way to him is that I know that he thinks quite deeply about these issues. I take the view that whenever a large-scale supplier of drugs is imprisoned, it takes him off the streets for a long time. I know that those in favour of legalisation will say that someone else will fill the vacuum. That may well be so
Mr. Hawkins: Even if it is, if one takes the view that the purpose of the criminal law is to try to catch and punish those who are guilty of serious wrongdoing, serious criminal penalties must be available for those who participate in what most Members, and certainly the vast majority of the public, regard as an evil trade.
Mr. Hawkins: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He and I have debated these issues many times. I know his views. I know that he will never persuade me, and I am aware, from the many times that we have debated the matter, that I shall not persuade him.
In parenthesis I should say that the Opposition are highly suspicious about the timing of the Home Secretary's announcement, and the reasons that underlay that timing. As the Minister will know, the Home Secretary's recent appearance before the Select Committee on Home Affairs took place only one day after a Home Office Question Time at which the Minister himself had given an answer completely inconsistent with what the Home Secretary said the following day to the Select Committee. It was apparent to all of us that the Minister knew absolutely nothing about the Home Secretary's planned announcement.
I do not criticise the Minister for that, because I do not think that the Home Secretary had any intention of bringing forward his announcement to the Select Committee until the Government spin machine realised that on that day the big running story was the appalling e-mail in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regionsthe Jo Moore scandal. That was what the Government spin machine wanted to bury, so the Prime Minister's chief press adviser cast around for an announcement that could suddenly be
The announcement was bizarre because most Secretaries of State appearing before a Select Committee that is carrying out an inquiry would have the courtesy to tell the Committee that the Government would wait until the Committee had finished its inquiry, that they would consider the report and recommendations, and that only then would they decide whether to change policy.
Dr. Iddon: Those of us who are pro-legalisation of cannabis were utterly dismayed because the Home Secretary's announcement and all other announcements made that day were wholly overshadowed by a much more important announcement, of decommissioning in Ireland.
Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend says, that was probably simple double-banking of other stories by the Prime Minister's spin machine. I read the newspapers the following day and listened to the broadcast media for a great part of that day. Only two stories ran: one, as the hon. Member for Bolton, SouthEast (Dr. Iddon) says, was decommissioning; the otherwhich took up almost as much space in many newspapers, and more space in some of the tabloids, was the Home Secretary's sudden, half-cocked, rushed announcement. The hon. Gentleman knows the reasons perfectly well, because he has seen the Prime Minister's spin machine in operationI seem to recall that he has complained about the misuse of that spin machine in other debates.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: If one believes what the hon. Gentleman is saying, it is possible to accept that the decommissioning of arms was also invented in Downing street. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wanted to let the Select Committee know what he was minded to do at the outset of its inquiry, so that it was not halfway through that inquiry when the announcement was made. That was his motive in telling the Committee when he did. It had absolutely nothing to do with the cloud-cuckoo nonsense that the hon. Gentleman is coming out with.
Mr. Hawkins: I think that I should respond to the Minister's intervention before I give way to my right hon. Friend. The Minister's interesting explanation of events that did not conform with the usual process whereby Secretaries of State wait for Select Committee reports before responding to them does not answer the point I made earlier. It was apparent not only to me but to the whole House that the Minister's response to a question only the previous day was entirely inconsistent with the Home Secretary's announcement.