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A central point about drugs policy, which is often overlooked, is that it is convenient to dismiss those who are involved with drugs on the basis that they are on the fringe of society and do not matter. As we invest in attitudes that lead to a tolerance of the most violent types of crime, the issue spreads beyond drugs to wider aspects of society. We must regard drugs as a motor for violent crime and consider how to break the link. The Minister has not dealt with that this morning. I hope that he will reflect on the issue.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: My hon. Friend makes a serious point. He appears to suggest that the legalisation of certain drugs would do away with the present levels of crime. It is true that certain levels of crimeoften serious crimeare associated with the supply of drugs, but a high level of crime is associated with the behaviour of people under the influence of drugs. If we move towards a policy that increases the use of drugs, such crime could well increase.
Mr. Lloyd: I do not follow my hon. Friend's logic. When we talk about drugs users, we are talking not about cannabis, which is probably still the most widely sold illegal drug, but about heroin, cocaine and crack. My hon. Friend referred to cannabis being behind 50 per cent. of the economic crime that is driven by drugs. That figure might be on the low side; it might be as high as two thirds. The pattern probably varies from place to place.
My constituents live in a relatively high crime area of a relatively high crime city. They know that when their homes are broken into, when their cars are broken into and when they are mugged on the street, half the time or more that is the result of drugs use. The Minister suggests that such crime might increase if we were to change policy on drugs, but I do not agree.
I do not advocate the decriminalisation of heroin or crack. Crack is a phenomenally difficult drug, even in treatment terms. There are no easy substitutes for it, as there are for heroin. Heroin is still the biggest motor for such crime, so we should allow regular users to obtain heroin or heroin substitutessometimes the most efficient method is to prescribe heroin itselfin a way that takes the dealer out of the equation. In that way, we would begin to remove the economic motor, cutting out the mugging, housebreaking and car theft.
My constituents are not as conservative as society generally is thought to be. They have begun to realise that, even though they may have nothing to do with drugs directly, they have a strong vested interest, as victims of the drugs trade, in a review of policy. We need a lot more radicalism in our approach.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath may get very animated about cannabis, but it is a long time since I have thought that it was even worth discussing seriously. I welcome the Home Secretary's moves, but they do not go far enough. Cannabis is not an issue. There is a generation
Mr. Lloyd: I have enormous respect for Keith Hellawell. I know him reasonably well and have listened to him on many occasions. He says many intelligent things, but no individual is the sole expert on these mattersthere are many different views. The argument that cannabis has dangerous physical properties must be taken seriously, but a highly emotive campaign saying that it is somehow on a par with drugs such as heroin and crack is simply misguided, because for the overwhelming majority of people under, say, 45
Young people do not regard cannabis as being even remotely on a par with heroin and crack. The more the gateway argument is pursued, the more damage we create in the minds of young people, because instead of having an intelligent debate about the properties of drugs and their potential dangers we suggest that there is a common thrill from all illegal drugs, which is nonsense.
Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): As the youngest Member in the Chamber today, let me point out that it is when young people go to get cannabis that they are forced into contact with the peddlers of hard drugs. That is a fact. Does he understand that?
Let us talk honestly about dealer mechanisms. Dealers themselves are not all of a kind. There is a world of difference between the Mediterranean "beyachted", ultra-rich centre of the whole operation and some kid on a street corner selling a bit of cannabis to some friends. I do not want to sound like the dealer's friend. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), those of us who advocate decriminalisation are probably the dealers' bigger enemies. Those who want to maintain the status quo are keeping the dealers in business, to be brutally honest.
Drugs are not all the same, and if we maintain that they are, we send out a confused message. The notion that alcohol is less dangerous than cannabis is bizarre. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath invited me to consider the dangers of cannabis as a gateway drug, but the biggest gateway drug is alcohol, which is amazingly easy to obtain. It is illegal to sell it to people under 18, but that law is often breached, too.
The use of multiple drugs exposes young people to dangers that range from teenage pregnancy all the way to death by overdose. We need to disaggregate the debate and educate young people in a way that fits in with their own experience. As long as we continue to say that drugs are undifferentiated, other than illegal ones being bad and legal ones okay, young people will treat our message with contempt, because their experience tells them that the world is not like that.
The Minister talked about dealing openly and intelligently with young people. We know that 1 million ecstasy tablets are taken every weekend. Some of them are cut with substances that are effectively poisons. It would make more sense to get round the problem by allowing the ecstasy to be tested against a proper pharmacological standard and prevent harm from being done not by ecstasy per se but by the things that it is cut with. That is practical, but very controversial.
It would also make more sense to recognise that some heroin users do not present for treatment on the basis that they want to give up immediately. It may make sense to prescribe heroin for the user who would otherwise get it on the street. If we reorder people's lives during a period of crisis, we do a lot to remove both the criminality and the social disruption. We need to consider radical ways in which treatment can be given. It is not all that long since there was moral outrage at the idea of needle exchange, but we went beyond that, because it worked. We have to get past the moral outrage and do what works.
Treatment is still alarmingly patchy in this country and it is still massively underfunded. Some estimates say that we should spend twice as much on it. I urge the Minister to tell his Government colleagues that unless we tackle the role of treatment we will fail in our duty to tackle drug-induced crime and to allow many of our citizens to lead decent, productive lives.
We need the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to develop a national strategy, delivering treatment where it is needed. I know, for example, that it is very hard for people to get into a detoxification unit in the north-west. Very few people can get into detox units, which gives rise to a serious problem. Heroin addicts have told me that they reach a point in their own use when they want to get out. They want to get into a detoxification unit there and then, but often are told to come back in three or six months, which means that we have invested in a further three or six months of crime, social havoc and disruption. We must deal not only with the patchiness of treatment, but with the lack of resourcing for the key points in the treatment system that will allow us to move people out of drugs use and into a more productive way of life.
Finally, there have been successful experiments in the role of proper rehabilitationre-education and getting former drugs users into productive activity and work. We need the equivalent of a new deal for drugs users. Conservative Members may not like the term, and it is a controversial idea. Why should that despised minority demand resources at the expense of the rest? The pragmatic response is that is it in the interests of us all to make sure that that despised minority is brought back to a lifestyle that allows them to live in harmony with the rest of society. It would save all of us much heartache and a great deal of crime, and in the end we would be a more decent society.