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David Davis: Not for a moment. I have only a limited voice left. The drugs that I am taking are legal, but they do not save it from wearing out quickly with this flu. [Interruption.] Magic mushrooms will not help either. [Hon. Members: "How do you know?"] I am sure that I take the Home Secretary's advice.
By the time a drug user gets to hard drugs, it is often too late. Breaking a heroin habit is harder than breaking a cannabis habit. It is not surprising that drug use has gone up. Drug prices have fallen because supply has increasedit is as simple as that. Our porous borders have made it all too easy to smuggle drugs. It is estimated that seizures account for only about 10 per cent. of the drugs coming into the country, and I note that class A seizures went down a couple of years ago for the first time in memory.
The Government have failed in their international responsibility to deal with Afghan opium production. Last October's bumper crop will flood our streets with heroin. With so many drugs available, it is no wonder that heroin has more than halved in price since 1995. Crack can be bought for a tenner in some parts of the country and ecstasy for a pound. At £1.95, a line of coke costs little more than a bottle of coke. Cocaine was once a so-called society drug that was available only to the rich, but now it can be bought with pocket money. Occasional users turn into regular usersusers who demand a fix whatever the price.
All too often, the cost of such dependency is crime, which is one respect in which I agree with the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). Drug-related offences
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have risen by a quarter in the past three years alone. A heroin or crack addiction can be expensive, and it is estimated that a regular user spends nearly £450 a month on his habit. The Government admit that 70 per cent. of acquisitive crime is drug-related. About three quarters of hard drug users commit crime to obtain drugs, and persistent drug misusing offenders commit almost 10 times as many crimes as people who do not use drugs at all. It was reported last week that a £20,000 kilo of heroin would lead to 220 burglaries by addicts who need to pay for their fix. As of the end of last year, one acquisitive crimeshopliftinghas become punishable by fixed penalty notice. For a regular shoplifter, an £80 fine is less of a deterrent than an occupational expense.
Unfortunately, drug crime is not only shoplifting but high-level organised crime that is often violent and gun-toting. With the drugs trade come drug gangs, drug barons, drug territories and drug wars. The lure of easy money can be too hard to resist. The gross margin from production to retail on a single gram of crack cocaine is nearly £50, so is it any surprise that burglars and other criminals are abandoning their old trade to sell drugs in the dark street corners of our cities and towns?
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): My right hon. Friend has already stated that some class A drugs are cheaper than a cup of coffee from Starbucks, which is clearly wrong. Does he believe that the Bill is deficient on the specific matter of sentencing and that those who deal in class A drugs should face stiffer penalties, as provided for by my private Member's Bill?
The Bill provides for the supply of drugs to children near a school to be considered as an aggravating factor for sentencing. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made an intervention on the Home Secretary about that point. One is tempted to ask why that provision should be limited to schools rather than including youth clubs, skate parks, arcades and bowling alleys. Why should the provision not be extended to supplying childrenfull stop? We need to make it clear that dealing to children, wherever they may be, is an evil that will not be tolerated by this Government or any other Government of this country.
"Smoking a spliff makes most people happy, relaxed and at peace with the world but the effects vary from person to person. Some people have one puff and feel sick. Others get the giggles until the muscles in their face hurt . . . Cannabis is quite an introspective drug. Once stoned, users can find hidden depths in daytime television"
David Davis: The prospect of finding hidden depths in daytime television would terrify me, but my hon. Friend raises a significant point. There is a danger that the approach on harm reduction might encourage the use of drugs, or at least give out a neutral message. Ilike the Home Secretary, to be fair to himbelieve that drugs are unmitigably harmful and thus should not be encouraged in any way.
I return to my point about penalties and supply to children. The Bill refers to cash payment for drugs that are sold to and couriered by children. I understand that youngsters in some cities are paid up to £30 a day to deliver drugs to users, but the Home Secretary should know that cash is no longer the only commodity traded for drugs. DVDs, CDs, computer games, trainers and mobile phones are today's traded goods for drugs, so people do not receive only the bankers drafts, cheques, notes and coins to which the Bill refers. I hope that we can pick up on that in Committee and ensure that the Bill's wording does not provide a loophole so that an expensive lawyer can get a drug dealer off.
"If, when you say 'whisky', you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, literally takes bread out of the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation and despair, shame, helplessness and hopelessnessthen certainly I am against it with all my power. But if, when you say 'whisky', you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts, laughter on their lips and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes . . . if you mean the drink the same which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our aged and infirm, and allows us to build highways, hospitals and schoolsthen certainly, I am in favour of it. This is my view and I will not compromise."
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley has published a private Member's Bill that will ensure that anyone who is caught dealing in drugs with children will receive a custodial sentence. His Bill will also set a mandatory sentence for repeat dealers. Will the Government support it? I am sure that he would not
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mind if they adopted his measures in their Bill. Will the Government, while they are at it, consider encouraging schools to follow the Abbey school example and begin random testing for drugs at schools?
The Home Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, I believe, started the enabling of that process, but it was a very cautious enabling. Reading the guidance almost made me afraid of the proposal. Will the Government provide the resources and support to make random testing at schools happen? It is clear that many parents are concerned about drugs
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