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13 Jan 2003 : Column 496—continued

9.6 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): The policies advocated by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) are precisely those that this country and all parties followed from 1971 until very recently. The result of those policies is that the number of hard drug users has moved from fewer than 1,000 in 1970, when there was virtually no drug crime and drug death was very rare, to the current position, where there are 280,000 hard drug users. Perversely, it is prohibition that has caused that increase in drug use.

I shall follow the example set by those on the two Front Benches and not speak from notes, but respond to the debate. It has been suggested, I know in good faith, that education is one of the ways in which we should invest very large sums on tackling drugs. The DART—drug abuse resistance taskforce—and DARE schemes have now been running in America for almost 30 years. A recent independent assessment suggested that they were ineffective. The people running the schemes said that they used to be ineffective, but that they now had a new approach. They made the same excuse eight years ago and also 15 years ago, but unfortunately the only genuinely independent and scientific examination that has been conducted of the effect on a control group of a drug education group has shown that there is no effect whatever.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) proposed the new wheeze of sending ex-drug users to teach in schools. A celebrated study was conducted in America in about 1955, when drug use was endemic in cities but rare in the countryside, whereby ex-drug users were sent into the country areas. Ex-hippies in their late 20s or 30s, with long hair, handsome attractive figures and guitars, were talking to 15-year-olds and saying XWe've been through all this; we've been through all the drugs and had it all, degradation and sexual orgies, and it was dreadful. You must not take drugs because your parents do not want you to have them and they are wicked and dangerous." Wickedness is just what 15-year-olds are after. Danger is what they long for, because they all know that they are immortal and will live for ever. Not unsurprisingly, drug use followed those anti-drug campaigns as surely as night followed day.

Mr. Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman has long been a known expert on this subject, which is why I am slightly surprised that he is drawing a parallel between what happened during the pre-hippy movement in the 1950s in the United States and the serious situation of many

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heroin addicts in semi-rural and town areas, about which we heard from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). Indeed, the problem is rife in my rural constituency.

Paul Flynn: In trying to follow the spirit of this debate and the way in which it was opened, I want to say that none of us has fallen back into the armchair of our own certainties or believes that we have the answer. What we want is some humility, and an admission that decisions taken by serious and conscientious people in this House have resulted in an enormous increase in drug use. We have the worst instance of drug use in Europe. We have the most deaths per head of the population and the worst problems.

I have been attending these debates for 15 years. The Government announce new plans, wheezes, money and programmes; the Opposition congratulate them and everyone makes speeches similar to that of the hon. Member for Upminster. They make hon. Members look tough and guarantee favourable headlines in the tabloids. However, that has not worked; indeed, nothing has worked.

We are often in the distressing position of receiving calls about this matter from constituents, usually mothers. A mother will tell us that her daughter, who has been prostituting herself for years, has had a baby, and asks when she will receive treatment. Sometimes a mother will ring up about a suicidal son, who has had a distressing experience and perhaps reached the point where he might change. She asks whether treatment is available. Those are real cases in which I have been unable to help.

Sometimes a mother says that she is buying heroin for her son because she has a clean source and asks what she should do. What can we say? We make the law. Can we tell people to break the laws that we make? I would break the law if I had a son, grandson or granddaughter in the position that I described. If we do not respect the laws, how dare we continue to impose them on the nation?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary mentioned Afghanistan. We must examine our past failures and not simply say that we shall have great success in Afghanistan. When we went into that country, the Taliban had reduced the cultivation of poppies in their area by 90 per cent.; the Northern Alliance have increased theirs by 300 per cent. There is no reduction in the growth of poppies. We risk committing the same mistake as the United States did in Colombia two decades ago. The United States decided to sort out the problem in Colombia and coca growth in Bolivia. People used coca as an appetite suppressant because they were starving, and as an antidote to altitude sickness. Only western man—I am sure that it was a man—discovered that when the beans were ingested without touching the saliva in the mouth, coca was a powerful drug.

If we take the same line in Afghanistan and follow President Bush, we will not stop the flow of drugs because they are being sucked in by demand in Europe and other countries. If cultivation ended in Afghanistan, it would improve in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Burma, the current source of many drugs. If we took the war against drugs to those areas, we would end up with the

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Colombianisation of central Asia. In Colombia, a war is being waged between three armies, two of which are financed by the drugs trade.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) took a pragmatic approach and did not go in for the cheap party political knockabout that would give him a headline in tomorrow's Daily Mail. He has seriously considered two interesting countries, Sweden and the Netherlands. Sweden has achieved the most remarkable reduction in the use of a drug anywhere in the world. It has reduced by more than 50 per cent. the use of the most deadly and addictive drug, which, according to its maker's instructions, kills half its users. Sweden has achieved that by accident rather than deliberate policy. It is almost embarrassed about it. I refer to the use of smokeless tobacco.

In 1980, 36 per cent. of Swedish males smoked cigarettes. That figure is now 17 per cent. The hon. Member for Upminster said that she was against drugs, no matter how they were taken or whatever their strength. Tobacco continues to be used in Sweden but by a method that avoids smoking. Nicotine is no more poisonous or harmful than caffeine, but when it is set on fire, the smoke contains carcinogens and other damaging chemicals. Drawing them into the lungs causes problems such as cancer and respiratory diseases. On average, Sweden's male population suffers half the deaths of the rest of Europe through smoking. The Swedish female population, which does not use the form of moist snuff, has exactly the average number of deaths.

I am critical of Sweden in one respect. It is the only country in the world that has adopted a line we have never adopted—that of total non-drug use. As a result, it starts from a very low base. According to an analysis of changes that have taken place in Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1987 and 1999, Sweden and the United Kingdom experienced the greatest increase in drug-related deaths—50 per cent. higher than in Switzerland and the Netherlands. The story is not all good: Sweden has its problems with illegal drugs.

Again, there is no simple solution. The right hon. Member for West Dorset mentioned the Dutch experiment. Significantly, he accepted at least one thing. The average age of addicts in the Netherlands is rising: it was 28 in the early 1980s, and is now over 40. It may shock Members to learn that there is a home for geriatric heroin users in Rotterdam. They spend their lives there, and their grandchildren turn up to visit them. Perhaps it is shocking that they are still alive at that age.

We should not dismiss those who are addicted to any drug, whether it is alcohol, tobacco—many people are addicted to tobacco, and will be for life—or an illegal drug. The best we can do is what has been done in the Netherlands, in Australia to a small extent, and in Germany, where such people are treated as patients rather than criminals. One celebrated centre in Rotterdam treats some 250 addicts who are supplied with clean needles and take their drugs under supervision, in hygienic surroundings. I visited the centre. It was upsetting and shocking to watch people abuse their bodies in that way, but I was struck by the contrast between what happened there and what happens in our constituencies. After people have taken their drugs they have someone to talk to; there is a social club and training in information technology, and they

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even produce their own newspaper. In our country we see people taking drugs in foul back alleys, using dirty needles in unhygienic conditions and being helpless afterwards: someone is likely to kick the living daylights out of them.

We can treat this issue with the seriousness that it deserves and with the humility that we should bring to it because of our past failures. It is not the best idea to go to the practitioners in the drug industry who, like us politicians, have been associated with failure for 30 years. It is time for fresh thinking. It is time to do what the present Government and the Opposition are doing—to look at what has happened elsewhere, and pursue policies that have worked to reduce drug use and the number of drug deaths.

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