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Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way to me again, but the debate so far has focused on drugs without an attempt to classify or define what is meant by drugs, and the last intervention is a classic example of that. If we define something as illegal, it becomes illegal, but we never define why it is illegal. Drugs must become illegal where they do harm. If a drug is not doing harm or not doing sufficient harm, it should not become illegal. We use several drugs that are not illegal because society does not judge that they do sufficient harm to make them illegal. We cannot simply say that all drugs are what we say they are, without explaining why we say that they are illegal.
Mr. Clarke: It is impossible to argue that the abuse of class A drugs, which is what we are principally talking about in the Bill, does not cause harm to society. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is completely at one with me on that. I accept that we could discuss what should or should not come within the legal framework. My test has always been, and remains, whether a measure reduces the consumption of a drug, legal or illegal, since consuming less drugs is beneficial to society.
The Bill shows that the Government have consulted widely on the proposed measures. We have debated most of the provisions already in detail during the debate on the Loyal Address. I believe that the Bill is a measured and proportionate response to the problems that we face and that it will contribute to the Government's strategy to reduce the harm caused by class A drugs. The police have said that the measures will help them to tackle drugs. I commend the Bill to the House.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Let me begin by telling the House that we welcome much of the Bill. Indeed, on the evidence of the last few interventions, I suspect that the Home Secretary's view is closer to mine than to those of some Labour Back Benchers.
To pick out a few headline points, we welcome the extra police powers to test for class A drugs on arrest and the new measures to deal with those who conceal their drugs. Although the Home Secretary appeared to be concerned about civil liberties, he knows that I am probably tested most on them, but I agree with him entirely about this very important issue, about which Liberty is wrong and he is right.
We are pleased that the Bill proposes a number of lesser measures, including making magic mushrooms a classified drug, although we are disappointed that the Bill does not include khat, which is already illegal in America, Canada, Norway and Sweden. I hope that we can discuss that in Committee. Khat is under investigation, and some Somali community leaders are concerned about it and would like it to become illegal.
Paul Flynn: The certain result of criminalising khat and magic mushrooms will be, with khat, to drive a wedge between the police and the Somali and Yemeni communities in Britain, and, with both drugs, to create an illegal market. Their use will not go down; it will increase, as the use of all drugs increased when we introduced prohibition in this country in 1971, and it will do so in the hands of an irresponsible black market, and profits will be made. For example, we had 1,000 drug addicts in 1971, and harsh prohibition increased that figure to 280,000. Criminalisation is an extraordinary, foolish and self-defeating aim, especially with magic mushrooms. No one has ever been killed using them and they are non-addictive.
The hon. Gentleman has a long-standing difference of view from most of the rest of the British population. That issue was best dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), when he pointed out that Sweden had tried the route that the hon.
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Gentleman advocates and it was a disastrous failure. Sweden's current approach has its vagaries, but it is much more successful.
We welcome the Bill, but unfortunately it is only a small step in the right direction. It is not a solution to many of the problems that the Government have allowed to continue over the past seven years, but then no legislation can make up for the failure of policy that we have seen. The Government have had numerous initiatives, summits and crackdowns on drugs, but I am afraid that the result has been more drugs, more dealers, more crime and more violence. There are more than 4 million drug users in England and Wales, and more than 1 million class A drug users. Cocaine use is up 250 per cent. and ecstasy use has doubled.
I agree with the Home Secretary that drugs wreck lives and that they are the scourge of society, and the Government should admit that they have failed to deal with some aspects of the problem. I was going to be quite hard about this, but frankly, given the Home Secretary's approach today, I am inclined to be more kindly, because he attacked the problem with an open mind. We will attempt to make the Bill as strong as we can in Committee. However, the problem is one not just for todaythere are millions of users todaybut for tomorrow.
Drug abuse among the young is increasing. The Home Secretary cited some numbers that I shall dispute. In 2003, 21 per cent. of school children had taken drugs in the past year. In 1998, that figure was 11 per cent., according to Department of Health figures. Alarmingly, in 2003, almost two thirds of 15-year-olds had been offered drugs. Sadly, British teenage boys top the European league of cannabis users.
I shall dwell on cannabis for a moment. Cannabis is not a harmless drug. Super-potent varieties have emerged in the past 20 years, and scientific evidence continues to show a heightened risk of mental illness for those who use cannabis regularly. A recent report suggested that someone who starts using cannabis at 15 has more than four times the risk of developing schizophrenia as someone who starts at 18. I quote:
"It is undoubtedly the case that most users of class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, start off by using so-called soft drugs, normally cannabis".[Official Report, 31 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 430W.]
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Did my right hon. Friend see the report today that the Royal College of Physicians is very concerned about the new type of cannabis that can cause substantial brain damage and major problems in later life when it is taken by youngsters?
I have not seen that report today, but it is the latest in a line of reports that have come out in the past 12 months that demonstrate that the perception of cannabisprimarily among the 1960s generation, like me, I guessas a relatively harmless, recreational drug is very far off the mark. In fact, it is a dangerous psychotropic drug that does a great deal of harm, often
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in the long-term when it causes serious psychotic illness. That view will be reinforced by the report that my hon. Friend mentions.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: The right hon. Gentleman is citing examples from different countries and times. Has he read that the prohibition of alcohol in the United States not only more than doubled the number of murders in that country and made the mafia extremely wealthy but changed the pattern of alcohol consumption? It was safer to transport potent alcohol, so the use of spirits increased enormously and the extent of beer drinking went down. Is there not a lesson to be learned from that example about more potent forms of cannabis?
David Davis: No, I do not think that that is the driving force. I am afraid it is a question not of reducing the volumes that must be carried but of what sells better. I understand the view taken by liberalisers, which is based almost entirely on the experience of prohibition, but I just think that it is plain wrong. These drugs do enormous harm, which is why the vast majority of the world does not believe in allowing them to be freely trafficked. We are part of the general consensus on that, so the real point to address is how well we control drugs, on which I shall take the Government to task in a moment. One of the problems with the Bill is that it will not tackle the users of soft drugs until they graduate to harder stuff.
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