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1.20 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): This is one of those debates in which everything that needs to be said has been said, but not everyone has yet said it, and I want to add my few words to this debate, which, as hon. Members have said, has been very interesting.

I can fairly claim credit for being, I think, the first Member elected since 1983 to suggest in a debate in the Chamber the legalisation of cannabis. I did so by way of an amendment to a criminal justice Bill, some 12, 13 or 14 years ago, when the climate was totally different. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) and I shared the same view when in opposition, but those then on the Opposition and Government Front Benches had a completely different attitude. Those on the Labour Front Bench were terrified because they felt that there was a

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stigma attached to the issue and that it would convey itself to the Labour party itself. Of course, the then Conservative Government were trying to make that connection. I was faced with Ministers saying, "This is really Labour party policy coming through," which forced those on the Labour Front Bench to jump up and disown me completely.

I welcome the fact that we can now debate this issue seriously. One of the reasons why we can have a proper debate is that, on this issue, the Conservative party has grown up, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) for escalating the seriousness with which the subject is being taken. Of course, with this issue, it is very true that it is not what is said, but who actually says it. When I said it, such views could be easily dismissed as those of a subversive and somewhat eccentric and outspoken Member.

Mr. Lloyd: Surely not.

Mr. Banks: I am afraid so. When a distinguished ex-Minister says it, commentators start to take it seriously, and a number of commentators and journalists have done so. For example, The Economist has long been a strong advocate for the legalisation of cannabis, and it is good to see that the weight of argument wins through in the end. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the real world. I wish that I could say the same of his colleague on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make speeches against the change in the categorisation of cannabis or against legislation on it, he must come up with a much better speech than the one he made today. A bit of party political knockabout—it was not even good party political knockabout—is no way to address the issue seriously. I say that because I have some regard for the hon. Gentleman.

To those on my own Front Bench, I say that I understand that when one is in office, one sometimes has to trim the comments that one makes. During my short, but distinguished and glittering career as a Minister, I was forced to remain silent on this issue because I could understand how my views would be exploited, but it is good to see that the House has grown up and that we can now discuss an issue that is serious for many millions of our citizens who are law-abiding people in all other respects.

The Government are not going anywhere near far enough—indeed, they are still trying to hold the line, probably because of the Prime Minister's reluctance. I do not know what my right hon. Friend did at university, but he clearly did not get up to any naughty things, and we are all glad about that, of course. There comes a time when we in the House cannot stand against the tide of events. Millions of citizens in this country are doing something that we say is illegal; we are criminalising their personal activities.

I shall finish in a few moments, because I have made this speech several times before. We are trying to stand against the personal choices of millions of our citizens, which is not the role of Government. Indeed, I am a great believer in, and devotee of, John Stuart Mill's attitude: that we should not legislate on that which does not hurt other people.

I have been hurt by drugs, and so have many other people, but it is the violence associated with the trade rather than the use of drugs that hurt me: I was mugged

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and robbed at knifepoint in my own street. I would like to think that the chaps who did that were trying to raise the money to go and watch West Ham—but I suspect that they were doing it to fund their habit.

A couple of months ago—I was about to say I was knocked up; I should be so lucky—I was woken up at ten-past two in the morning by two police officers saying, "Excuse me, but have you heard any gunshots?" I said, "No, I'm afraid I haven't. What's happened?" Three doors away, someone had been assassinated in a car. It was all to do with drugs, and it was a real assassination, because whoever did it legged it; the police never found them and I do not think they will. The serious crime squad came round, and it was all clearly connected with drugs and yardies.

What really affects us is the impact of drugs on law and order in our areas. That is another reason why I think that the sooner we move—

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: This is a debating Chamber, not a buffet. I have been watching the hon. Gentleman, and he keeps nipping in and out—but I will give way to him, on one ground only: the fact that he has signed my early-day motion in favour of Barney the lobster.

Mr. Rosindell: In view of the appalling circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, including his own experiences of the violence associated with the drug culture, why does he seek to legitimise it instead of fight it?

Mr. Banks: The violence is not associated with the drug culture as such. The drug culture is the millions of people who use cannabis, cocaine and other drugs. The crime is associated with the drug trade—supplying drugs that are currently illegal. If, for example, the Government were to say that smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol is far more harmful to an individual's health than smoking cannabis or snorting cocaine, they would be right—but they would be mad to do so, because the violence that would then be associated with supplying those substances, which people want but which would be illegal, would be enormous, and would make the present trouble associated with the supply of drugs look like small beer.

It is because drugs are criminalised that violence is associated with them. Extremely violent criminal activity is not associated with the supply of alcohol or cigarettes, yet—I am about to say something that I did not intend to say today—on health grounds one could well argue that nicotine and alcohol should be banned before cannabis or cocaine. That is what the hon. Gentleman has to understand.

There is another point too, which I shall respond to as the hon. Gentleman has raised it, albeit in an oblique fashion. As the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) said, if this is a war against drugs, it is a war that has been lost—probably before we even joined battle. In the United States some of the most restrictive laws are being used against drugs, and the fight against drugs sends people down into south and central America to napalm coca plantations and so on. What is the result? More

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people are doing drugs in the United States now than ever before, the quality has gone up and the price has gone down.

When people realise that they have gone into a war that they are totally and utterly losing, because they are up against people who simply want to pursue their own habit, they have to start thinking about their tactics and their strategy. That is what I hope the Government will do.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: No, because I am about to finish.

The Government have to do that, because in 50 years' time we will look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about. I commend them on the small and timid step that they have taken, and I hope that I can encourage them to go much further in future.

1.29 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). I was interested to hear his libertarian arguments, which I hope he will now extend to country sports and other such issues.

We have heard a lot about the number of property crimes that are drug related. The chief constable of Norfolk said the other day that he reckoned that more than 70 per cent. of crimes in Norfolk were in some way drug related. We have all had our own experiences. About a fortnight ago, my wife and I suffered a burglary at our house in London: the burglar started to rummage around the house, the alarm went off and—greatly to their credit—Lambeth police appeared within two minutes and apprehended the burglar about 10 minutes later in our neighbour's garden. That happened on a Monday. The lad, after spending two years in prison, had come out of prison the preceding Wednesday, since when he had committed four crimes, all burglaries—ours was the fourth. He is a drug addict. That poor soul needs help, not more prison.

The Department of Health has recently issued statistics on the number of drug misusers in treatment in England and Wales. It says that there are 118,522—a staggering number, although I am convinced that the true number of drug addicts in this country is far greater. The Minister pointed out that the national treatment outcome research study estimated that for every £1 spent on treatment, £3 is saved in the criminal justice system. The NTORS also monitored 276 clients who had been admitted for treatment and found that of those who were treated, 30 per cent. were free from all target drugs a year later. That shows how important treatment is.

One important group of specialists and experts is being largely precluded from taking part in the war against drugs: general practitioners. Of 118,522 misusers in treatment, only 8,180—a paltry number—are being cared for in the community by GPs. The Minister knows that "Tackling Drugs Together" stated:

but as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) pointed out, GPs are being discouraged by the General Medical Council. I would go further and say that, in fact those brave GPs who are committed to helping drug addicts through appropriate prescribing, are being targeted by the GMC.

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Currently, 15 GPs are involved in various stages of disciplinary procedures, from preliminary procedures and interim orders to professional conduct committees. All 15 have been arraigned for irresponsible prescribing, but it would appear that no account has been taken of the clinical needs of their patients, many of whom have long and complicated histories of drug taking, as well as dire medical conditions that invariably justify larger prescriptions and sometimes require a combination of drugs.

I, too, wish to talk about Dr. Adrian Garfoot and the Laybourne clinic. Dr. Garfoot originally lived in North-West Norfolk; his father is a distinguished Methodist minister in my constituency. Dr. Garfoot started the Laybourne clinic in 1992. His philosophy, as the hon. Member for Bolton, South–East says, is to try to return addicts to the mainstream. He tries to stabilise them through a tight prescribing regime, helps to rebuild their self-esteem and works to return them to the community.

In an intervention, I pointed out that Dr. Garfoot's success rate is extraordinary: the recidivism rate among 1,200 addicts in his care was a mere 7 per cent. after two years, compared with 50 per cent. of those leaving the prison service system. His most recent group of patients said that their average daily spend on feeding their drug habit had been £100—money that was raised through burglaries, street crime and other crimes. Seventy per cent. of his male patients have previously spent on average four years in prison.

I have been to the clinic, and it is a centre of excellence that has achieved a remarkable amount in a short period. Many of those receiving treatment were refused treatment elsewhere. They had been to drug dependency units and detoxification centres, which had failed them. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South–East said, it is so sad that the clinic is threatened with closure as a result of the entirely blinkered and short-sighted attitude of the GMC.

Dr. Garfoot has been subjected to two preliminary proceedings and three interim orders, and has recently been before a professional conduct committee of the GMC. He has been struck off for irresponsible prescribing. As I said in my intervention, there has been no evidence of diversion and no evidence of any harm coming to his patients. A doctor of 25 years' unblemished service has now been struck off. It is a disgrace.

As the hon. Member for Bolton, South–East said, two of Adrian's patients have died since the summer. Terry Hold died in August from an injection of illegal street heroin. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham explained that ADAPT is an organisation in her constituency. It issued a press release the other day that makes sad, depressing reading. Terry Hold spent the last moments of his life dumped, like any piece of garbage, in a south London garden. The local treatment unit made no provision for treating this long-term addict. He was denied treatment locally, but he was receiving treatment at Dr. Garfoot's clinic.

Mr. Hold's death was directly attributable to the lack of addiction management provision for chronically long-term drug injecting addicts. Under Dr. Garfoot, Terry had stabilised his drug use. His family life blossomed and he was working and becoming a self-reliant and productive member of the community. He is now tragically dead. A female patient of Adrian Garfoot committed suicide the other day.

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As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East said, Dr. John Marks's clinic in Widnes was closed. Within two years 40 of his former patients had died.

I am concerned about the 270 or so patients in Dr. Garfoot's clinic. I am also concerned about Dr. Garfoot's professional position. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South–East said, his only right of appeal is to the Privy Council by way of petition. He cannot afford to pay the costs of that himself, even though he has raised some private funds for his defence.

Dr. Garfoot applied to the Medical Defence Union. His application was refused and the case is now going to the MDU board of management. When the Minister has considered the details of Dr. Garfoot's case and has read my speech and those of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, I hope that he will see fit to write to the MDU to point out that there has been a breach of natural justice. Surely a man's livelihood should not be destroyed without any right of appeal.

The GMC must be concerned about its professional image. It must be concerned also about its self-policing of the profession. Obviously, an extra onus has been placed on it since the wretched Harold Shipman affair, but I strongly believe that there must be a better alternative for examining the cases of doctors who are accused of wrongly prescribing drugs. There must be a better procedure under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

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