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Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): First, I wish to clear up the issue of what happened in Sweden. As a rapporteur for the Council of Europe, I produced a report on drugs policies in which I made comparisons between the two most prohibitionist countries in Europe and two with pragmatic policies. The report covered the period from 1900 to 1999, and it showed that areas with the harshest policies in Britain and Europe had the largest increases in drug use. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was updated on the position, but since 1995 there has been a fourfold increase in drug deaths in Sweden. A report by the Swedish Forensic Medicine Institute said that Sweden probably had the highest number of per capita drug deaths in Europe. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman received an explanation, but there are some very good propagandists for the policy.
Mr. Duncan Smith:
The hon. Gentleman is a fair man, so I am sure that he would like to correct those figures. He will recall that Sweden followed a programme of complete liberalisation in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the figures show that addiction levels went through the roof. Since the Swedes have taken a harder position, addiction has fallen dramatically. Yes, there have been some increases, but they are in line with other increases
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in the west following the advent of crack cocaine. That has changed things, but I suspect that the Swedes are better off now than they were with that liberal policy.
Paul Flynn: The right hon. Gentleman is right that there was an increase, as there was in Switzerland, after liberalisation, although that is not the case now. However, the picture over the past 40 years in Europe is clear: some forms of decriminalisation and free-for-alls are certainly not desirable and do not work. However, the sum of experience on our continent and elsewhere shows overwhelmingly that prohibition increases drug use. In this debate, we all share a common desire to reduce the consumption of every drug, because they are all dangerous. We must make decisions about their comparative danger, but as I said in an intervention, Portugal has recently achieved some interesting results in a short period. Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany have also tried interesting experiments by setting aside areas in which people can use heroin in safe conditions rather than taking it in the street, as happens in this country. Such experiments clearly have significant health benefits.
Decriminalisation was introduced in Portugal. People may treat that lightly, but some offences are still in place. Prosecutions went down from 2,500 to 13, which represents an enormous saving in time for the police, the courts and prisons. The drop in the number of deathsthe worst possible outcome of drug takinghas been most impressive. They have fallen from 369 in 1999 to 152 in 2003, and are still going down. There are fewer drug users with AIDS compared with non-drug users, and the percentage has declined in both real and relative terms. The number of drugs in use also went down in both absolute and relative terms. Decriminalisation has therefore been an unquestionable success in just four years.
There is, however, a period of 25 years to study in the Netherlands, and I have spent a great deal of time looking at what has happened there. I always like to make the point that I have never used an illegal drug, and neither have I used many medicinal drugs in my entire life. I am very hostile to drugs and, having spent most of my working life as a chemist, am suspicious about the side effects of drugs, including many medicinal drugs. I do not want anyone to use any drug whatsoever if that can be avoided, but we must accept the reality of what is going on. The Bill is the most atrocious piece of populist, knee-jerk legislation in the House since the Dangerous Dogs Acts.
There is no case for taking the approach to magic mushrooms adopted by the Bill. I have been in correspondence with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), about the position on magic mushrooms, but not in my wildest dreams did I believe that that would precipitate the measures in the Bill. The Government could have done three things. First, they could have left the law alone and not touched it, even though it is absurd and irrational. If hon. Members went down on their hands and knees and grazed on magic mushrooms as they grew, they would not be committing any offence whatever. If they picked the magic mushrooms and ate them, they almost certainly would not be committing an offence. If they picked them and left them overnight, they would
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be using a class A drug because there would be a change in the magic mushrooms. The present law cannot necessarily be defended, but it does no harm.
One country has recently set up legal outlets for magic mushrooms, and that would have been a sensible way forward for the Government. Instead, however, they have made a laughable decision. The hallucinogenic effects of magic mushrooms are not serious, and are not as bad as some of the side effects of over-the-counter drugs that can be bought in chemists. No one has ever been poisoned or killed by taking magic mushrooms. The Government website points out that they are not addictive in any way. They are among the mildest drugs, whether legal or illegal, that are available. Unlike those great killers, alcohol and nicotine, magic mushrooms are an entirely innocent drug and the dangers involved are not comparable. There is a market for them, and I agree that it is growing a littlethere were more at Glastonbury than there had ever been before, but that meant that there was not as much ecstasy, so there was a decline in the use of other drugs. If magic mushrooms replace the use of more dangerous drugs, so what? The idea of banning them and treating them as a class A drug on a par with heroin and cocaine is ludicrous. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts, because their action cannot be justified. As I suggested in an intervention, criminalisation will certainly increase their use, as that happens with all prohibition.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument about the connection between prohibition and usage. By way of analogy, would he support a ban on smoking in public places, particularly pubs and restaurants?
Paul Flynn: Yes, I would, but I very much support the use of snus. Inveterate users of tobacco who cannot give up can take that Swedish drug, which has reduced cancer deaths among males from nicotine by 50 per cent. That is one of the most extraordinary health improvements in the world. Sweden is the only country to have reached World Health Organisation targets for the reduction in cancer deaths by 2000, and it did so by encouraging people to ingest nicotine rather than smoke it. As with cannabis, the danger comes from smoking. In this country, people mix cannabis with tobacco, a dreadfully toxic addictive drug that kills.
To return to the point that I was making, one of the stronger arguments against prohibition is that in the Netherlands, after 25 years of regulated, controlled decriminalisation of cannabis, its use among all age groups is half the rate of use in this country, and it is often used in a way that avoids smokingin a safer way, by being ingested in cakes or drinks, or in other ways.
I see two stages to the campaign: first, we must get rid of prohibitionof course, we must increase treatment; and, secondly, we must campaign with a message that is credible and that will be believed by young people. The proposal before us will be greeted with nothing but derision by the country as a whole, especially by those who use magic mushrooms. I asked the Minister a question and did not receive an adequate reply, but I believe that if we designate the magic mushrooms growing wild in our gardens and elsewhere as a class A drug, we will all possess it and we will all be open to
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the charges. We cannot make nature illegal. Magic mushrooms are part of the natural world. Some might describe them as a gift from God.
The Bill is an attempt by the Government to appear tough on drugs. I suggested some time ago that we could not read the manifesto of any party for the next election without coming across the word "drugs" and in the following sentence the word "tough". The Government have excelled themselves this time by ensuring that in the Home Office press release there are four "toughs" in 150 words. The clause is the News of the World clause. Like the campaign that was conducted by the tabloids on dangerous dogs, the News of the World has a campaign and the Government react. Dogs bark, children cry and politicians legislate. I urge the Government to stop taking the tabloids. They would do well to stop pandering to the lowest common denominator of public opinion.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones : My hon. Friend says the Government are pandering to public opinion, but I am not sure that is the case. Public opinion is not the same as the majority view expressed in Parliament. I recall one of the tabloid papersThe Sunrunning a campaign against cannabis and inviting its readership to express their opinion. The readership overwhelmingly deplored the opinion of The Sun and said that cannabis should be made a legal substance.
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