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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1112—continued

Simon Hughes: I am with the hon. Lady half way on that. I think that, on the current evidence, cannabis is in

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one category but that the use or possession of ecstasy should not be regarded as not criminal. It is therefore in that side of the park, beyond which is heroin and crack cocaine. I accept what the hon. Lady says. Cannabis is widely used—although I do not use it and I am sure that the hon. Lady does not—but if we can prevent it from being one of the drugs that the polydrug dealers want to sell and separate cannabis sellers from the people who want to flog ecstasy tablets, heroin and crack cocaine, whom we want to catch and lock up, we should do our constituents a better service.

I agree with the Minister about the Lambeth experiment. I have talked to former Commander Brian Paddick and to acting Commander Brian Moore. They hold the same view on the issue: the experiment worked. I like and respect the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), but she is wrong about this matter. Many people have pretended things that are not true about Lambeth. I live next door to Lambeth and am often in the area. The evidence from Brian Paddick and Brian Moore is the same, although they are entirely different people, with entirely different perspectives on the issue: we did better by not chasing cannabis users and we caught more people dealing hard drugs. Lambeth was not a honeypot for people coming from elsewhere. The police monitored the people whom they picked up and they were not drug tourists. The same people were peddling drugs before the experiment began. During the experiment, the police were more able to catch them because they had more time. I hope we can lay the honeypot claim to rest. The evidence from people on the ground is that the Lambeth experiment worked.

Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) pointed out that a distinction might be made, which I hope Ministers will consider, as to whether or not people were carrying drugs for their personal use. There is merit in examining the substantial possession test—as a variant on the suggestion of the Home Affairs Committee—so that we can catch people who are clearly not carrying drugs for their own use because they have such huge quantities that, unless they were superhuman, they could never use them in a reasonable period.

I hope that we are all united in wanting severe punishments for people who trade and traffic drugs and try to exploit people where they are vulnerable, especially outside schools and youth clubs. Such dealers should expect the harshest penalty.

The Minister mentioned people who were leaving prison. Until recently, prison was one of the easiest places to become a drug addict. The Prison Service has worked hard, using sniffer dogs and other methods, to stop that. However, my view—although I took some persuading—which is shared by the majority of my colleagues, is that prison should never be the answer for those convicted only of possession of any drug. Our prisons are full to overcrowded and to lock people up because they use drugs is to criminalise people who should be receiving treatment for their addiction from the health service. I hope that we can get away from the idea of prison, even for people who constantly use heroin. If necessary, we can send them to prison for nicking from houses or cars because they want money for drugs—that is a different matter.

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I hope that the Government will not forget about producing their alcohol strategy. On Friday nights, in streets in my area, such as the Old Kent road, more trouble is probably caused by alcohol than by drugs. I think that many of my colleagues have the same experience.

Following the Cambridge Two case, I hope that the Government will accept the recommendation of the Select Committee and amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. People running hostels should not get clobbered when they do not knowingly preside over drug taking and are trying to look after people and help them. We need to ensure that such places work well.

The exercise is not cost free. We are debating public expenditure estimates—the public budget. We are talking not about small sums but about billions of pounds. Will Ministers make it clear that the balance should continue to be tilted towards prevention and treatment rather than towards dealing with people only after they have been caught? I am advised that in the next financial year the proportion of money to be spent on treatment is less than a third of the total allocation. We can sort out the problems only if we spend much more on the prevention and treatment of addiction and much less on enforcement.

The debate is important. We are all united in our objectives. The Government are moving in the right direction and we welcome that. They get seven out of 10 for going the right way, but we hope that they will think again about things such as cannabis and ecstasy: please, no more muddled messages.

4.14 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): It is a delight to speak in this debate. Having spoken in every debate about drugs in this House since 1987, I know that there is a change today. In every one of those debates, until recent years, there was unanimity in the House that the only way of solving the problems was to introduce more tough policies—and every year it was clear that the policies were not working.

Before 1971 we had a British way of dealing with heroin addicts. There were fewer than 1,000 addicts, there was virtually no drug crime and deaths were extremely rare. That is the system to which we should return. There has been criticism by one of the newspapers suggesting that at that time there was leakage from the system—and occasionally there was, including a case involving two doctors. Because of that, politicians behaved as we often do: babies cry, dogs bark and politicians legislate. We put on the statute book the most damaging piece of legislation on drugs that has been introduced in Europe—the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. According to the National Treatment Centre, we now have not 1,000 addicts but 320,000, and we have 40 per cent. of all the drug deaths in our continent of Europe.

I have had the job of acting as the Council of Europe's rapporteur on drugs for its health committee. I have visited many other countries to see what is going on, and I beg the House to look at what has occurred in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal and Germany; throughout our continent there is a change of view, which has come through to this House.

It is a pleasure to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the other Ministers now responsible for drugs policy, who are the most

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reasonable that we have had in my time in Parliament. I can remember a debate in the early 1990s when the then Conservative spokesman, Mr. Mellor, said that there was one thing of which he could be absolutely certain—that heroin use had peaked in Britain.

I recall another occasion when the two Front-Bench spokesmen had to leave the Chamber during a debate to go out for a fix because they were both addicted to cigarettes, which are far more damaging than any of the drugs about which they were talking. There is a contrast between the drugs of choice of my generation and those of young people.

It was a shame that we had to suffer the vacuous speech of the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). It was the usual mix of prejudice and ignorance that we have come to expect from him. I appeal to the Conservatives—including the shadow Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who made a distinguished contribution in the Select Committee—to get one of their able and intelligent Members to act as their spokesman if the official Opposition are not to be left behind in the debate.

A tongue-in-cheek award of parliamentarian of the year was made to the leader of my party, who deserves many awards, but perhaps not that one. The person who gave the award suggested that it was given in order to foment trouble between the Prime Minister and his next-door neighbour. However, the award of parliamentarian's parliamentarian of the year should be given to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I did not attend quite as many meetings of the Committee as he did, but I found those that I did attend an elevating experience because of the quality of cross-examination and the variety of witnesses.

I shall never forget one witness, Fulton Gillespie, who spoke about something of which we all have experience in our constituencies: mothers—it usually is mothers—ringing up to say that their young people are on drugs, asking what they should do, and wondering whether they should buy drugs or find a safe supply for them. I have a case of a mother with two daughters who are prostituting themselves; one has just had a baby who is also addicted to drugs. We feel hopeless in these cases, and I feel especially hopeless when I receive a letter such as the one I received on 28 October from the Gwent healthcare trust, informing me that the average waiting time for treatment is 11 months and the longest waiting time, for the specialist substance misuse service, is 17 months.

This is not a party matter, and people should not reduce it to one. We have had 30 years of monumental failure by all parties, united in error year after year. We are now escaping from it by having, for the first time, a policy of reducing the status of cannabis in law and a policy on the medical prescription of pharmaceutical heroin. That worked well until 1971. Lots of heroin users were veterans of the first world war who became addicted on the battlefield. There was the famous case of the author of XNational Velvet"—a distinguished English lady living the life of a country gentlewoman, who took vast amounts of heroin every day in the form of pharmaceutical diamorphine. It killed her eventually:

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she took more heroin than most people take on the streets, but she eventually died a serene death at the age of 91. That is the alternative.

Fulton Gillespie talked about his son in very affectionate terms. He said what a nice chap he was, and how he loved him. He said that his son was more sensitive than his other four children and got upset about cruelty to animals, the cost of war and the Falklands war. He was not making excuses for his son, who had treatment. I shall explain how his death occurred. He went into prison on remand because he was stealing to feed his habit, but no heroin was available on remand. If he had been put into the normal prison, heroin would have been freely available, as it is in most of our prisons. When he came out of prison he went on to the streets to get his heroin. He took the same strength of heroin as before, but it was contaminated and it killed him. He was killed not by heroin, but by prohibition. He was killed by the fact that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 brought in strict prohibition.

We should not dismiss those people as junkies, as the Opposition spokesman did. That can happen to any family, and they are not some subspecies; they are part of our families and our constituencies, and they deserve the same compassionate treatment as anyone else.

Mr. Fulton Gillespie rightly said that the only answer is legalisation of all drugs. That does not mean a free-for-all, or that we want to encourage anyone to use drugs. DrugScope said in its submission that in all the cases in which there has been a policy of changing the regime on drugs, particularly cannabis, doing so has not led to an increase. That can be backed up by cases from all over the world, from Australia to the Netherlands and Switzerland.

We must make it clear that after 30 years of the harshest prohibition in Europe, Britain has by far the greatest use of cannabis in Europe and by far the greatest number of drug deaths. Yet after 25 years of regulated licensed criminalisation—this is not theoretical; it has happened—Holland has split the two markets. It has lower heroin use than this country, one tenth of our heroin deaths and a lower use of cannabis in all sections of society. The main reason why that has happened is the division between the soft drugs market and the hard drugs market. Young people who want to experiment, as they do in this country and other parts of Europe, can do so without being exposed to the pushers of hard drugs.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Minister about the idea that there are other fixes. We have to look at what has happened elsewhere and imitate the successes. We certainly should not go down the same road as the United States. We are now in the extraordinary position of having 130 per 100,000 of our citizens in jail. That is nearly the highest figure in Europe, and it is double the average. America, with its harsh drug policies, has 700 people in jail per 100,000.

If we want to find a record of failure, which we must not repeat in Afghanistan, we need only look at Colombia. It has been said that we can eliminate drug use in Afghanistan and that we support a Government who will reduce poppy growing there. In fact there was a Government who were reducing poppy growing—they were called the Taliban—but the Northern Alliance was increasing poppy growing. That policy will not work.

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The result of trying the same policy in Colombia is chaos and continual warfare between three armies, two of which are funded entirely by drug use.

The great danger is that heroin production will not be eliminated by persuasion, bribery or whatever other means without providing alternative crops, because the money incentive is too strong. If it were eliminated in Afghanistan, the drugs would then be grown in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Burma. We are now told that they are grown in North Korea. We cannot stop that supply, and the drugs are being sucked in through this country. We have heard about the drop in price, but drug production and exports to this country are completely out of control.

When we know that there are a huge number of people who become unable to work because they must enter a cycle of getting their drug, committing crimes to pay for it, sleeping it off and going through the same cycle again, do we say to those young people who are blighted by drugs that the only market available to them is a market run by criminals? Is not the only sensible way of dealing with the situation to collapse the evil, irresponsible black market in drugs by replacing it with a market that can be legalised, policed, licensed and controlled? That has happened in the Netherlands, and is happening now in Portugal. The Select Committee gave great attention to the drug users rooms that I have visited in a number of continental countries, which have an immediate beneficial effect. They immediately reduce crime, as they did in Switzerland, and have an immediate beneficial effect on the health of users—

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