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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1155—continued

Mr. Mullin: The debate has been excellent. We have heard many original and thoughtful speeches from Members on both sides of the House. I thank especially colleagues on the Select Committee for their contributions both today and during the course of the inquiry. One of the great strengths of the Select Committee system is that it is possible to hold a mature discussion on issues that cannot always be discussed maturely in other parts of the political process—let alone in the media.

I was disappointed with the contribution of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), the Conservative spokesman. I felt that it did not quite rise to the occasion. I was especially disappointed by his abuse of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). We might not necessarily agree with him, but we must recognise that he is one of the few Members of the House—with the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)—who were prepared to discuss this subject when nobody else would. My hon. Friend was prepared to challenge deeply ingrained prejudices, and although I do not necessarily agree with him about everything, we should acknowledge that.

I agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath on one point: it is important to take the damage done by people who drive under the influence of drugs as seriously as that done by people who drive under the influence of drink.

As I listened to some of the later contributions to the debate, I had to pinch myself occasionally to remind myself that, as I made clear in my opening remarks, the Select Committee actually came out against decriminalisation and legalisation. We emphasised from the outset that all drugs are harmful, as I think we all agree—but that the degree of harm varies.

Although the Committee had a number of things to say about the classification of cannabis and ecstasy, we should not get too distracted by the arguments over that. Yes, both of them are bad for people. Any sensible person would acknowledge that. However, the key issue is that they are not the main cause of the problem. Most people who take ecstasy or cannabis grow out of it fairly quickly and go on to lead useful and productive lives.

Those drugs are not, on the whole, addictive. It is true that people die from taking them; I would not wish to be misunderstood. We all understand that all drugs are harmful. It is just that some are more harmful than others. Once we have worked that out, we come very quickly to the idea that the cause of almost all the drug-related chaos in society arises from the abuse of heroin and crack cocaine. About 99 per cent. of drug-related damage comes from those two drugs.

Once that essential point is grasped, one or two other things become obvious. One is that we must try to persuade the 200,000 or so chaotic users of heroin—who are responsible for about 50 per cent. of acquisitive crime and who damage not only their own lives but those of their communities and families; we have heard harrowing examples of that today—to seek help to stabilise their lives. Until we do that, we cannot even begin to address the problems that they are causing. It is true that some are well beyond the point at which their lives can be changed; they will not change and become

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clean and good citizens. However, we can stabilise their lives and stop them mugging, burgling and doing more damage to themselves and the people around them.

That brings us inevitably to the fact that we need the controlled prescription of heroin and diamorphine. I am glad that the Government are facing up to that issue. This is not rocket science, and it has been done with great success in countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. We heard from experts from those countries who told us how it was working. One caution; there has to be tight control of the system because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) said, we do not want leakage on to the streets, which just exacerbates the problem. That was one of the reasons why the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was brought in. The system must be strictly controlled.

One of the problems that became apparent during the inquiry was the disappointing lack of interest from members of the medical profession. One can understand that a GP will not want his surgery clogged up with addicts, but we have had great difficulty in extracting from the British Medical Association any evidence at all on the issue. When we insisted that it make some sort of contribution, it consisted of less than a page, two thirds of which was about what the BMA stood for and did. That was a problem.

One doctor who gave evidence said that only half an hour out of seven years of medical training had involved dealing with people on drugs. We are getting better at this and I know that there are many dedicated members of the medical profession who are engaged in dealing with drug addiction—

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): Hear, hear.

Mr. Mullin: We have one not too far from me. However, the medical profession could do more in encouraging and training its members in this regard.

Finally, I repeat what I said in my opening remarks. There is no Xone true path" in this matter. I am envious of the certainty of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), but—if I might say so, with respect— people who have given more thought to this matter than he has have worked out that there is no perfect solution to a problem that is serious and out of control. We are on a learning curve and feeling our way forward, but there is a certain amount of experience in the world. One can look abroad; foreigners can make a contribution to the way in which we deal with our problems, on which we can build.

The way forward is clear for the foreseeable future. It is along the road of prevention, treatment and harm reduction. That is way that we are going. The path is set for the foreseeable future, but it is not set in stone.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his timing.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No.54 (Consideration of estimates, &c.).

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It being after Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No.55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.).





Ruth Kelly accordingly presented a Bill to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending 31st March 2003 and 2004 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending on 31st March 2003 and 2004: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next and to be printed [Bill 14].

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I shall put together the Questions on motions 5, 6 and 7.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.


Consumers for Health Choice

7.2 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I wish to present a petition from 365 of my constituents who are customers of the Oregano health food shop in Lowestoft. They are very concerned that the European food supplements directive and the proposed European directive on traditional herbal medicinal products could severely restrict their choice of safe, natural health products, which they have used successfully for a long time.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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