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Paul Flynn: I stand corrected. What I meant to say, and what I think I did say, was the lowest common denominator of public opinion. All the informed groups that have reported on drugs and all the committees that have met, including our own Home Affairs Committee, have urged reform along the lines that I support, rather than along the lines that the Government and the Opposition support. That is telling.
I remember the day in 1998 when we set up the drugs tsar. There was unanimity among those on all the Front Benches, which is always a certain sign that the Government have got a policy wrong. Only one Member spoke against the drugs tsar with his preposterous posturing and his idiotic targets of reducing the use of some drugs by 25 per cent. and even some by 50 per cent. I was disappointed with the answer I received when I asked the Minister the difference between drug use now and in 1998. He gave one figure that related to 1998. Readers of Hansard will notice that all the other examples he gave had nothing at all to do with 1998. He mentioned a few years selectively.
Since 1998indeed, since 1971there has been a huge increase in the use of drugs. It has been gradual, and occasionally the figures have gone down a little, but the overwhelming trend in use has been upwards and the trend in price has been downwards.
: I thought Keith Hellawell was a very good drugs tsar. Sacking him sent all the wrong signals. That was the point at which the direction of Government policy on drugs such as cannabis went wayward. The hon. Gentleman's thesis is that if only we were to legalise drugs, the problem would go away. If the solution was as simple as that, it would have been done many years ago and in many countries. The fact that that has not happened disproves his case. We need to get the message out and send the right signals, particularly to young
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people, that the drugs that the hon. Gentleman wants to legalise and make freely available on the streets are killers.
Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman speaks as a seller of tobacco. Perhaps I could tell the House that he persistently invited me to visit a club in the west end of London with which he was acquainted in some way. People there greeted him with the words, "Hello, Nigel" and me with "Hello, Mr. Flynn". As members of the House of Commons drugs misuse group, we went to inspect the drug precautions in the club. We inspected every floor and every area of the club, we saw the cameras, and everything seemed to be entirely in order. People there were very pleasant to us and explained what a wonderful drug policy they had. A fortnight later came the news that that club had become the first one in Britain to be shut down because of the open and blatant sale of all illegal drugs. I think it was called "Home" in Leicester square. It was useful to gain from the experience of the hon. Gentleman and visit his club.
The Bill is another example of evidence-free legislation. All the organisations that have any merit have criticised the Bill. Drugscope, which represents more than 900 agencies, is highly critical, as is TurningPoint. Lord Victor Adebowale said:
"We need to focus on making current treatment programmes more effective, not dreaming up new offences to shovel people into the system. Instead, we see both the Conservative and Labour parties in a pre-election pantomime trying to prove who's toughest on drugs."
"It is a matter of concern that some of the best and most creative elements of the government's drug strategy are becoming distorted by virtue of misguided attempts to placate populist criticisms to the effect that it is insufficiently 'tough on drugs'."
Last week I attended the World Health Organisation's conference on mental illness as a representative of the Council of Europe. It was a ministerial conference and one of the main issues before us was a report from the European monitoring centre on drugs and drug abuse. The figures for what they call co-morbidity and we call the dual diagnosis were frightening. The report quoted 80 per cent. of people with serious psychiatric problems also having serious problems of drug dependency. There is also a problem with smoking. A huge percentage of the people in mental hospitals are smokers, a far greater proportion than among those who are not mentally ill.
Over the years, unanimity among all parties in the House on a Government policy has meant that it has not worked. We accept the increase in the number of cases of rehabilitation and treatment. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is an expert on the subject. Treatment usually means abstinence, and it is coerced abstinence, which is never very effective. If it is voluntary abstinence, there is a good chance of people coming off the drug, but there is a dreadful failure rate for those involved in drug treatment. It is no way of taking people outside the system.
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We should consider what every group has suggested. A report was prepared by the group that advises the Prime Minister, suggesting that we should take a different line. In a splendid report, the Home Affairs Committee suggested that we try at least one intelligent idea that has been used successfully throughout Europe: users rooms for people who are inveterate addicts and who have been on programmes of rehabilitation and assistance for a number of years. I visited one of those in Amsterdam, and it was dealing with 400 addicts. Those people were unlikely ever to get off drugs, but the programme allowed them to use drugs that were clean, of known strength, and under circumstances in which there is assistance in case of trouble afterwards. An IT programme is provided, and those involved publish their own newspaper and have support. Many of them go back into the world of work and are rehabilitated. There is even a home for geriatric heroin users in Amsterdam, which we do not have here. Sadly, our addicts tend to end up on the streets, taking heroin of unknown strength and purity in unhygienic conditions, with dirty needles, and they have a short life span.
We used to have a system in this country, before the 1971 Act, in which those people who were addicted to heroin could get hold of it from the national health service. That was contained, it worked, and there were virtually no deaths. Many of the people involved became addicted during the first world war through the use of diamorphine in battlefield surgery. One woman who took heroin in that way was the author of the book, "National Velvet". She was taking a prodigious dose of heroin, and eventually died in her bed, at the age of 91.
Under our current system of prohibition, however, addicts are unlikely to see a full life. It is not the drug that is killing themthat is not to suggest that it is not dangerousbut the drug laws passed by us in the House. We will place an increased burden on those with mental illnesswe are doing it, and the decisions cannot be pushed off to anyone else. In many cases, people sincerely believe that prohibition is working, although I cannot understand why, given that it has been shown over and over that it is not, and that it makes matters worse. There is also an element of populism: we are unlikely to get a sensible change with an election in view. Sadly, an attempt to gain popular appeal is very much what lies behind the Bill.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being in the Chamber to hear the beginning of his comments. He claims that prohibition has resulted in increased drug usage, yet the legalisation of alcohol has also led to a massive increase in alcohol consumption. Can he comment on that in relation to his analysis?
When alcohol was prohibited, the use of alcohol decreased, but people moved from drinking beers to drinking distilled spiritmoonshinethe alcohol content of which was difficult to control, and it was toxic in many cases. There was also an increase in drug deaths. The worst effect, however, was the creation of empires of crime, with the result that an illegal market supplied the product. That went on for 13 years and then came to an end. At the same time, around 1920, the drugs that are illegal now became illegal throughout
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the world. A right-wing evangelical group in America spread their message throughout the world. We did not prohibit alcohol, but we did prohibit cannabis, heroin and cocaine, all of which we used as medicines for years before that, which had been doing little harm. The use of those increased, and the people in America who were selling moonshine moved on to selling illegal chemical drugs.
If any Government wanted perversely to cause problems, they would decide that khat, which was mentioned earlier, and magic mushrooms should become class A drugs. The results, as I mentioned in an intervention, are absolutely certain. I have a large Somali population in my community, and khat is undesirable. It is not on a par with many legal drugs. It is chewed, and has a certain effect whereby people end up with a headache in the morning. It is not hallucinogenic, but it is undesirable because people waste a lot of time doing it. Many of the elders in the Somali and Yemeni communities are opposed to its use. It has been used in the Yemeni community in Cardiff and the Somali community in my constituency for 100 years. If it is made illegal, as the Government hinted that it would be, along with magic mushrooms, the immediate effect will not be reduction in its use; instead, it will become attractive, as it will have the appeal of forbidden fruit. There will be illegal users, the price will go up, and the profits will go up. The Government will therefore give an incentive to an entirely new illegal market. It could move from being a minor drug used by very few people to one that is used as greatly as many other drugs.
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