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Mr. Lilley: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary could and should have informed the House

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rather than a Select Committee, either the day before at Home Office questions, or afterwards by means of a statement, and so allowed the whole House to participate and cross-question him? I say with all respect to the Minister that it is the Home Secretary who we would like to hold to account, and we should have been given the opportunity to do so. That would also have allowed the Select Committee to cross-question the right hon. Gentleman in great detail the next day.

Mr. Hawkins: My right hon. Friend, who has given long and distinguished service as a Secretary of State, is absolutely right. That reinforces our belief that the previous day the Home Secretary had had no intention of saying what he subsequently said, and that he was influenced by the Government's spin machine, which was concerned about getting rid of the Jo Moore story from the media and the airwaves.

Simon Hughes: I agree with the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) about the process, but I do not accuse the Government of having the motives that he ascribes to them. May I ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) two direct questions about Conservative party policy? First, do the Conservatives believe that any drugs should be reclassified as recommended by Runciman—yes or no—and if the answer is yes, which ones? Secondly, do they believe that it should be criminal to possess cannabis for one's own use? [Interruption.]

Mr. Hawkins: As the Minister says from a sedentary position, we are keeping those matters under review. However, it is for the Government to answer the question that we, the official Opposition, put to them: will the Home Secretary's proposed changes result in fewer young people becoming victims of drugs? That is the question that we are posing today. We, the Opposition, are putting the Government under pressure to answer that question and to justify their answer by evidence. In an intervention that made Opposition Members smile, the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central said that "new Labour, at its best, is evidence-based." I doubt that new Labour has a best in the hon. Gentleman's terms, but any sensible Government should ensure that any step that they take is evidence-based.

One of the Opposition's concerns is that the Government do not appear to have taken into account much of the evidence that they have collected of the influence of drugs on road accidents. I hope that those who participate in the debate will consider the fact that all the evidence that I have obtained from the Library, which has been drawn from studies carried out all around the world, shows that all sorts of drugs, both soft drugs such as cannabis and harder drugs, are having a serious and increasing effect on the number of road accident fatalities.

Before the Government reach a final decision on reclassification—the Minister might be rowing back a bit from what the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee—I hope that as well as considering the implications for sentencing for supplying class B and class C drugs, the Government will seriously examine the worldwide evidence of the increasing number of serious injuries and fatalities caused in road accidents which

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coroners' investigations and police investigations later reveal were caused, or seriously contributed to, by one or both drivers driving under the influence of drugs.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes rose

Mr. Hawkins: I have given way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) once and I shall not do so again, because he will make his own speech in a little while. No doubt, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) will simply repeat the questions asked by his hon. Friend, so I will not give way to him either.

The Government have to answer some serious questions. The Opposition will continue to level the charge that Government are not thinking these matters through. They have not addressed the serious concerns that I have raised today. We hope that the Government will stick to the sensible comment that the Minister made at the outset of the debate, that all drugs are dangerous and that all drugs should remain illegal. The Government will have our support only if and when they demonstrate that they have thought through the issues properly and sensibly. We do not think that they are doing so now.

10.29 am

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I am astonished by the lack of policy detail in the speech of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Drugs strategy is an serious issue, and it is important that people articulate their opinions and views in debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on that, because we need to have the education debate for which the Home Secretary has called. Although my views differ from those of the Government in some respects, there is no doubt in my mind that we must start a more efficient debate—one that examines the practical aspects of drugs use and abuse.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the use of drugs makes other activities dangerous. Given the nature of the debate on classified drugs, it is sometimes difficult to debate the issue rationally. I have an anecdote that the hon. Gentleman might find unpalatable. Some years ago, I spoke to a senior police officer about the rave scene. Interestingly, he said that the crashing of cars following raves, many of which were stolen, was not a major issue. His view—I do not know whether it can be substantiated—was that ecstasy was not linked to the rise in dangerous car use. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that we must have regard to the wider consequences of drugs use.

Neither the Minister nor the hon. Gentleman referred to one of the consequences of the black market in drugs—gangsterism. Killings in my constituency and nearby areas are, sadly, a common phenomenon. It is a long time since I have been able to say to people with shock that there has been another death in my constituency, or in Manchester as a whole. Last week, a 36-year-old man was killed. Nobody knows exactly why the killing took place, but the strong suspicion is that it was linked with the drugs trade. Successive Governments have failed to deal with the linkage and have taken a one-dimensional view of the drugs trade.

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There is a strong argument that we should try to break the link between the supply of different types of drugs. If we are to have an intelligent debate about drugs, we must consider the dangers of all drugs and accept that the use of all substances in that context is potentially dangerous. We must disaggregate different types of substances, as their impacts are different. If we view legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco as being all right, and all illegal drugs as being bad, we make a profound mistake about the damage that drugs do to society.

Our drugs laws have criminalised a huge section of society. Some of the most ruthless criminal gangs in Manchester and in other major cities are way beyond being driven by the motor of drugs activity. The use of firearms in Manchester, for example, is a direct result of our failure to get to grips at an earlier stage with the way in which drugs are sold. These issues must be taken seriously. One of the problems that I confront in my constituency is the view that anyone who is the victim of such violence is expendable. I have attended too many funerals where mothers have cried about their sons dying, even if those sons were sometimes involved in activities of which I and others would not approve.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman is raising some interesting points about gangsterism and drugs. Has he considered the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1930s and the growth in gangsterism? Would he care to draw an analogy between gangsterism in the US and the scene that he is describing?

Mr. Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The history of the United States teaches us that prohibition was ended too late easily to dismantle the criminal problems that had grown from it. Even if we were to alter our controlled drugs policy overnight, criminality and organised crime would still exist in my constituency and in others. As I have said, it goes beyond the drugs trade.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Let me take up the interesting point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). Is my hon. Friend aware that during the period of prohibition in the United States the murder rate doubled? Immediately after prohibition ended, it went down to its previous level. He might want to consider the effect of the prohibition of drugs in Manchester and in other major cities.

Mr. Lloyd: My hon. Friend is right. When I came to Parliament 18 or 19 years ago, deaths of the sort that I have described were fairly unusual. Unfortunately, some types of extremely violent crime are now tolerated. I blame our drugs policy for the growth of such crime. I wish that we could return to a less violent society, but alas we shall not easily be able to do so. If the motor for drug-related killing were to disappear, it would have an impact on deaths in Manchester and more widely, if nothing else.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland have been directly funded from the proceeds of illegal drugs? That has persisted because the industry is primarily demand led, not supply led.

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