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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1145continued
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Listening to the first two hours of this debate, one might be forgiven for believing that there was consensus in the Chamber. The last few speakers, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), proved that that is not the case, however, and I believe that their views are far more representative of the British people at large, as are those of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I make no apologies for adding my views to the arguments that they have put forward.
It is time for hon. Members to speak up for the vast majority of decent, law-abiding people who will never have any desire to take part in this sick culture in our society. In my experience, the perception is that the war on drugs is not being lost, but purposely undermined by continual talk of decriminalisation, legalisation and reclassification. The Home Affairs Committee report has, sadly, added to that perception. In fact, the situation seems so bad in new Labour's Britain that I
From the outset, I want to make clear my opposition to every strand of thinking that tries to make excuses for those who take or deal in drugs, whatever the so-called classification of the drug, or the amount involved. If the Government are to have any credibility on this issue, and if anything at all is to be achieved, there must be a clear line: drugs are simply wrong. They kill our children, destroy the fabric of our society and have much wider effects in terms of financing international terrorism.
Two weeks ago, I spent my Saturday night accompanying the police officers of Romford's crime and disorder unit around the town centre. Among the horrendous sights of that evening, we encountered a man who had been using cocaine. He was unable to control his actions and posed a clear danger to himself and members of the public. There is no justification in our society for peddlers of that evil drug to be free to walk the streets of my constituency, and those of other Members, and supply substances of that sort. We need the police to be given the resources to stamp such behaviour out completely.
Equally, there is no excuse for tolerating those who take such substances. To those who argue that drug taking is an issue of freedom, my response is simple: I believe in freedom too. I believe in the people of this country being able to do as they wish, but that freedom comes with responsibilitythe responsibility not to behave in a manner that is detrimental to others and that of playing their part in ensuring that the fabric of society is not ripped apart.
The taking of drugs breaks that responsibility. That was best put by the Honourable Asa Hutchinson, the administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in a recent lecture to the Heritage Foundation:
The Christian Institute's May 2000 pamphlet, a copy of which I gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), is entitled XGoing Soft on Cannabis". It outlines the counter-arguments to those often given for reclassifying that drug. I shall not go into detail, but for those who are interested the full document can be found on the Christian Institute website at www.christian.org.uk.
Drug culture apologists often claim that cannabis is not a gateway drug to harder and more dangerous substances such as heroin or crack cocaine. However, the Christian Institute points to a series of studies that revealed that most abusers of hard drugs started their drug abuse career by smoking cannabis: 90 per cent. of those who had used it more than 1,000 times had used other illicit drugs, but only 6 per cent. of those who had never used cannabis had used hard drugs. Children between the ages of 12 and 17 who had smoked cannabis were 85 times more likely to end up using cocaine than their non-cannabis-smoking peers.
Others try to claim that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol. In 1995, an American study discovered a frightening statistic: 30 per cent. of a group of convicted murderers who were high on cannabis at the time of the homicides said that the crime had occurred because they were on cannabis.
Another argument that is often advanced is that the current laws are not working. Why bother keeping them, those people ask. In fact it is not the laws that are wrong, but the soft approach taken by the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the Government. They seem to have given up on the idea of prosecuting cannabis users, and now let them off with a caution. The proportion of cases dealt with by caution rose from 3 per cent. in 1982 to 55 per cent. in 1998. No wonder the law is not working, if no effort is put into maintaining it.
The arguments for going soft on cannabis are all so easily defeated. I urge the Government to reconsider before giving the green light to thousands, if not millions, of young people to destroy their lives. I call on the Government and indeed the whole House, to reflect on the words of Nancy Reagan, which are etched on the wall of the Drug Enforcement Administration museum in America:
Drugs are simply wrong. They are killing our nation's children. They are funding those who wish to attack and take away our freedom. They are breaking down our society. We must act now with a comprehensive zero tolerance strategy. I fear that otherwise we will let down future generations and our nation, and will bitterly regret it in years to come.
I have much to say about the general issues, but no time in which to say them. I commend the Government's excellent document, the basis of which I wholeheartedly endorse, but I would waste more time by simply repeating what it says. I therefore intend, in the few minutes available to me, to make some points about what I would describe as the war on drugs that I think should be considered.
Another good document was published last FebruaryXChanging Habits", produced by the Audit Commission. In its conclusions it referred to one of the key problems that I encountered in my drugs inquiry. As I told the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), it is mentioned on my website, johnmannmp.co.uk. It involves 150 case studies. I have spoken, in great depth, to heroin addicts and their parents, and I agree with many of the Audit Commission's findings.
A critical issue, which the Government should address, is that of unco-ordinated assessment in relation to treatment. There are multiple referral routes, which is a core problem. The Audit Commission says that
I hope that in the coming months the Minister will challenge the notion of addicts having to present themselves for treatment. I find that a strange notion, but it runs through all UK drugs services and it is one reason for the confusion over what is treatment and who is in treatment and who is not. In my opinion, the notion of presenting needs to be knocked on the head, and I have many case studiescollected over a year, not a few
XChanging Habits" goes into great detail about the different options that are available. I would like a proper menu of treatments to be available in my constituency and I am sure that other hon. Members share my view.
Another issue that needs to be examined is what I would describe as the incestuous nature of treatment services. For example, the very good chief executive of my local drug action team is also a non-executive director of the National Treatment Agency and the eight reference groups. The fact that one organisation presents the statistics is also part of the problem. That needs to be knocked on the head. The statistics need independent validation. The absurdity of joint commissioning in my area is that the patient care trust, which has to deal with the biggest problems of heroin addiction and drug addiction, is not represented on the joint commissioning group. I am glad that that is now being challenged, and if there are further problems I shall draw them to the Minister's attention. However, it demonstrates the mish-mash that has continued for many years in the UK. European comparisons are not particularly relevant. I would suggest that most countries are behind us rather than ahead of us in terms of treatment.
I now turn to another problem. In The Guardian this week there are job adverts for drug treatment workers. The Prison Service is giving people permanent, well-paid jobs in drug treatment. The Stapleford Centre is recruiting a nurse practitioner on a salary of £33,000 to £36,000 and a medical officer on £65,000 to £77,000. Conversely, Turning Point in Sheffield employs drugs workers on one or two-year contracts and pays them £16,000 to £19,000 a year. Those are the extremes, but there are problems in relation to the lack of continuity and the inability to get the best-qualified people in areas where they are most needed. This may be controversial, but I would put it to the House that the best drugs workers should be working not in prison, but in the community. I would like the sentiment and some of the detail in the report to be taken to its logical conclusion. Young heroin addicts in my constituency are committing crimes; I have met only one who is not. I want them to be offered the option of being treated at the point at which they are arrested and enter the criminal justice system, rather than their simply going through the system and ending up in prison. Let us save the legal aid bill for defence costs, which, as the Audit Commission has shown, is the same as that for treatment. Let us recycle that money by treating young addicts at an early stage. That would make a fundamental difference.
I have two final suggestions, the first of which is the integration of police files and health files. The Parnassia Institute took that incredibly important step seven years ago, so it can be done. My own chief constable is keen to follow suit. In analysing criminal activity, he cannot tell who the heroin addicts are. Similarly, the drugs services do not know who the criminals are. The two systems need to be merged. The Derbyshire drugs market project is a good example of how the effective collation of such information can be used to disrupt the drugs market and to get those people out of crime and into treatment, where such services exist.