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Dr. Iddon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a procedure, the Home Office tribunal procedure? It has not been used since Adrian Garfoot was before it in 1997. Is it not rather sad that for five years he went through Home Office tribunals but now has to go through the entire saga with the GMC and eventually be struck off? This doctor has suffered for nearly 10 years.
Mr. Bellingham: That is 100 per cent. correct. Under the Home Office procedure, there is an appeal to the advisory body. The key to the argument is that, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, if a doctor is disciplined and prevented from prescribing drugs, he can go back to his mainstream GP practice, but under the GMC procedures, Dr. Garfoot has been struck off and has lost his livelihood until further notice. The Minister must explain why the procedure under the 1971 Act has not been used in the past four years.
If we are to win the war against drugsand we all feel strongly about the appalling harm being done to our youngsterssurely we must harness one of our most obvious and crucial resources: GPs, who are closest to the community and really care about their patients. Far from
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who delivered his speech with passion and a deep sense of injustice. I am sure that the case deserves to be heard and answered by the Minister. Indeed, it is a privilege to follow so many excellent speeches in this debate. That is the privilege; the downside is that most of the things that I intended to say have already been said, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, that does not stop me saying some of them again.
I congratulate the Government on an enormous step forward. The Home Secretary and his team have moved the debate on drugs policy forward after it had been stuck for the past two decades. That has made this debate possible. It is perhaps the Minister's desire that, having made that move, the whole world will now settle down, but, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, now that the kaleidoscope has moved, it will be some time before the colours settle down in a regular pattern. We cannot rely on the most recent change in policy to be the last one, because today's debate has shown that, although we have improved our drugs policy, it still does not meet the demands of evidence or of rational argument.
The least rational argument presented todayit was almost no argument at allcame from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). He did his party a great disservice by the paucity of his arguments, especially as that party has done a great deal in recent yearsin the past year, in particularto open up the debate. Probably nobody has done more than the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). I do not think that she intended the debate to go in that direction, but she certainly made an enormous contribution. All her colleagues who then sat on the Front Benchsome of them still doand who admitted their cannabis use did us all a great service. I admit that I was cowardly, and it was only after the Tories had begun to admit their cannabis use from the Front Bench that I admitted that when I was a student I, too, took cannabis and enjoyed it.
I am no longer a young man, alas, but I still recall what I felt like when I smoked cannabis as a young man. Almost all the people around me smoked cannabis. I grew up in the 1960s and I was a teenager and went to university in the early 1970srather like the Prime Minister. I was keen on popular music at the time, like the Prime Ministerbut apparently unlike the Prime Minister, I participated in cannabis use, together with the vast majority of my university colleagues. I thought at the time that those who legislated were entirely hypocritical because of the way in which they toleratedindeed, promoteddrugs such as alcohol and tobacco, but prohibited the drugs of choice of young people like me.
In the early 1970s, I thought that the old people who were the politicians of the day did not understand, and that they were ignorant, which they probably were. We do not have the defence of ignorance, do we? There cannot be any of us under 50 who do not know of people who took cannabis. Where is the testament from those people that it did a great deal of harm to others whom they knew, even if they did not use it themselves? Where is the evidence? We have heard none today.
I have spoken of my personal experience, and I have other personal experience. I come from a small mining village at the top of the Rhondda valley. There was very little cannabis use there when I left, and there was no harder drug use, as far as I knew. Unfortunately, that is not the case now. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister has a family connection with that mining village. I must tell him that a few months ago I went to visit my elderly mother, taking my three young children with me. One of my children went out to the garden and came back with a used syringe. I tried to hide it from my mother. I then went out to the garden and came back with 12 used syringes.
Some people will want to cast me as some sort of libertine who believes that drugs use is fine. I do not believe that drugs use is fine, but I believe that I must speak out. The evidence has been quoted, and I would have quoted it if that had not already been done in the debate. The evidence is damning, and it could not be clearer about the policies that we have been carrying out in this country and in other countries, but almost uniquely badly in the UK, which has the worst drugs record of any western country. The drugs records of other countries are pretty bad, but we have the worst in Europe.
Our policies clearly do not work. We can all agree that it is dreadful that there are people addicted to drugs which alter their mind, and that in order to feed that addiction they do awful things to get money. The argument must be about what we do to stop that, or at least to mitigate or reduce it. Surely that argument must be based on evidence.
Instead of basing their arguments on evidence, hon. Members on both Front Benches have put up false tests as Aunt Sallies and hidden behind them. The Opposition spokesman said that, just as drinking and driving causes accidents, taking drugs and driving will have the same effect, and that therefore we should not consider legalising drugs. He tried to hide behind that false test. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) dealt with that well by citing evidence on the effects of drugs.
My hon. Friend the Minister used another test. He asked whether legalising cannabis would increase its use. It is possible that legalisation would increase use, but is that the only test of whether a law should be changed? [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says that it is one test, but there are many more. Prohibition may slightly reduce the number of people who take cannabiswe do not know whether it doesbut is that a sufficient benefit to justify criminalising millions of people, including those who supply small amounts to friends and neighbours?
Lembit Öpik: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I agree with him. Does he accept that, to achieve the outcomes that the Minister rightly said we all support, the Government must consider supply objectively? Decriminalising a drug while supplying it remains criminal deals with less than half the problem.
The scale of the trade is enormous. It is worth billions of pounds throughout the world, and it dwarfs the budget that almost any country can provide to fight it. To say that is not to be defeatist; it can lead to rational consideration of the problem, the evidence and the possible solutions.
We are currently locked into an international convention that is not based on evidence. Movement in the civilised world is overwhelmingly towards legalisation. I am sure that, without the convention, countries in Europe would have legalised already. Many European countries have all but legalised drugs.
Until now, I have talked about cannabis. I want to consider a different drug. On Wednesday, I had the privilege of meeting several people who had suffered grievously because members of their families had been addicted to heroin. Some families had lost their sons and daughters from the effects of taking corrupted forms of the drug. Others told more heartening tales of going through difficult and testing times but managing to get their sons and daughters off the drug. A few methods had worked, but the main method of getting their children off that dreadful habit was tremendous family support and mothers and fathers going out to buy heroin, bringing it back and giving it to their children in controlled doses, thus helping them to get off the drug. That is what had worked. Those addicts and former addicts told me that the systems that the state uses do not work because it takes so longsix months or moreto get on to the drug rehabilitation programme. What do the drug addicts do in the meantime? Also, the methadone that is prescribed to them can create a habit that is far more difficult to kick than heroin, which is perverse in itself. It is also much more dangerous than heroin and kills proportionally more people.
Why do we not give addicts heroin in controlled circumstances, and try to treat them and get them off the habit? Why can we not do what the families of those lucky ones are doing for them? If we could, we might end up not having the worst heroin problem in the western world, which is what we have now. I say to my own Government: we have been in office for nearly five years and our record to date on drugs policy is nearly as bad, if not worse, than that of the people we took over from, and their drugs policies were rubbish as well. We have made changes. We have to make more, but I welcome the changes that we have made.