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Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Illegality does not destroy the market—I am surprised that the Tory Front Bench team does not understand the market—it still exists, and competition always exists within a market. In an illegal enterprise, the only way in which people can compete is to use violence against their competitors. Because they are in an illegal market, their competitors cannot go to the police for protection from the violence being used against them. A pattern of increasing violence therefore results. That is exactly what happened in America during prohibition, when the murder rate skyrocketed, and it is what is happening today in our inner cities, where crime is being fuelled by an illegal drugs market.

Paul Flynn: Another example of the unreality of our world is that we are signed up to a United Nations programme that is being run under the deluded battle cry, believe it or not, of "A drugs-free world, we can do it". It claims that it is "on target" to eliminate all coca, cannabis and opium cultivation by 2008, which is a delusion of Olympic proportions.

We should consider what America has done with Colombia, as we are about to repeat the same process in Afghanistan—we are about to Colombia-ise that whole section of central Asia. In Colombia, for 30 years, America has been destroying the crops by spraying, wrecking the livelihood of people living on less than a dollar a day. That has not worked, and world consumption of coca and all drugs has increased. In Colombia, there has been a slight decrease in
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production, but that has been replaced by production in Bolivia and Peru. Colombia is in continual bloody chaos, with three armies fighting a civil war.

John Mann: Is not the history of Colombia that cocaine production only began there in 1975, that before that there was no Colombian cocaine production, and that cocaine production in Colombia was begun by both right-wing and left-wing extremist factions to fund their activities, rather than the other way round?

Paul Flynn: Coca, of course, has been cultivated for at least 1,000 years, and was used mainly by people in Bolivia as an appetite suppressant and to counter altitude sickness. They chewed it, and western man—it almost certainly was a man—discovered that if coca is taken without the process of chewing, thereby avoiding contact with saliva, it is a hallucinogenic drug. We are trying to solve the problems that we have on the streets of Birmingham, and which the Americans have on the streets of Chicago, by wrecking the economies and the peace of third-world countries.

Mr. Evans: Just over a year ago, I visited Colombia, where I met British police officers who were liaising with Colombian security forces to help them tackle the drug problem. Surely we should not give up and allow Colombia and other countries to grow cocaine and other drugs. We should examine other countries—the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) has mentioned Peru and Bolivia—and obtain the same sort of co-operation between them and countries that live under the scourge of drugs, such as the United Kingdom, the United States and others, to ensure that we spread the co-operation that we extend to Colombia.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We are moving away from the core of the Bill and into a discussion about Colombia, and we are in danger of repetition. May I say to hon. Members who want to catch my eye that ever-longer and more frequent interventions are not helping the cause?

Paul Flynn: The United States has led the world to believe that harsh prohibition by fighting and by spraying crops will somehow reduce the problem. My point is that prohibition increases the problem. The only way in which to collapse the illegal, irresponsible and criminal markets in this country and in most other countries is to replace them with legal, regulated and controlled markets. Nobody is asking for a free-for-all that would expose people with children or people with mental health problems to drug use.

A legal market reduces the need for control. To a great extent, that is what has happened in Holland, which accounts for the success of its policies over 25 years. Drug use by children is not a problem in Holland. Policing is much easier if one allows balanced adults to make their own choices. We would not dream of prohibiting alcohol or tobacco, although they do a great deal more harm and are more toxic and addictive than other drugs.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: Drugs are illegal in this country, and they would have to be legalised if we were to end up where the hon. Gentleman wants us to end up.
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Legalisation would surely send out a message. We should learn the lesson from lowering the classification of cannabis, which sent out a message that confused young people, many of whom thought that cannabis had been legalised. This place is not only about passing laws, but about sending messages.

Paul Flynn: In the eyes of most of the population, cannabis is legal now. In practice, my local police force and most police forces treat cannabis as though it were a legal drug. They do not waste time arresting people and taking them to prison, and they certainly do not waste time dealing with people who take cannabis as a medicine. Young people have made their own decision, and public opinion is in advance of that in the House—we are behind. People see the use of cannabis in the same way as the use of tobacco or alcohol, both of which are undesirable.

Members of Parliament are a group of people who have had no experience of drugs in our youth, except for certain Conservative and Labour Front Benchers. The Home Secretary has said that he used cannabis in his early life and the shadow Chancellor has also said that. That strengthens the argument that cannabis is the start of a slippery slope. If one starts on cannabis, one ends up on one or other of the Front Benches, which is marginally better than the gutter, I suppose.

We should follow the policies that work. America should not be used as a model. In America, 2 million people, most of them young blacks, are in jail for soft drug use. When I entered this House, 40,000 people in Britain were in jail. Now 70,000 people are in jail, most of them for drug offences, which are no more dangerous than taking many other ordinary drugs.

Now we have this awful knee-jerk legislation. I never thought that I would say this in the House, but I hope that the revising Chamber will have the good sense to sabotage, wreck and obstruct the Bill in any way possible. At least the House of Lords contains one ex-heroin addict, who can talk from a great deal of experience. The Front Benchers were reticent when they discussed the Bill. Turning magic mushrooms or khat into drugs that are treated in the same way as cocaine and heroin is a crime-creation measure, and we cannot go ahead with it.

The market is chaotic and out of control. The vulnerable people who are hit hardest are those who have the dreadful misfortune to suffer from a psychiatric illness and to have a drug problem. They are more exposed to illegal pushers than they would be if they lived in a country in which drugs were decriminalised, because it would then be much easier to concentrate on their protection. We must seriously examine the harm caused by drugs, which includes an increasing number of deaths, and the increasing use of drugs by psychiatric patients. The buck stops here. All parties have made wrong decisions on the matter since 1971, and the result has been a vast increase in the abuse of all drugs.

2.16 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), who made an interesting and
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thoughtful speech—I agreed with some parts of it and disagreed with others. I was particularly struck by his description of the Bill as one of the most dangerous, populist and knee-jerk Bills to come before the House since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. If he considers the content of the past few Queen's Speeches, he will realise that he is setting himself an exceptionally high standard.

In all fairness, although the Bill is a good attempt, the Government have not quite managed it. It has more than a whiff of populism about it, and, as the hon. Member for Newport, West observed, the timing, coming as it does in the run-up to an expected general election, is no coincidence. That is unfortunate because, as other hon. Members have observed, drugs are one of the most serious and profound scourges to affect many of our communities. Although today's debate has been good and has ranged fairly widely, the communities that we serve deserve better.

It is an established fact that the United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of illegal drug use in Europe. Some 4 million Britons report using illegal drugs in the past 12 months, and the crime associated with illegal drugs costs society £16 billion a year. No community is immune from drugs. Because of its geographical remoteness, my constituency is often seen as being somehow safe from some of the worst social ills faced by metropolitan communities. Although it is certainly true that we do not suffer the same problems to the same extent, in my constituency, and particularly in Shetland, a growing pattern of hard drug misuse is emerging. We have seen drugs deaths, which would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago.

Before I entered this House, I was a solicitor in criminal court practice working along the Moray coast and in Aberdeenshire. I have seen heroin take a grip on fishing communities such as Fraserburgh and Peterhead and the damage that it has done to them. Those areas have a strong sense of community, which should have afforded them some protection, but such is the strength of the threat that it has not done so.

Unlike the Conservative party, Liberal Democrats do not oppose the Bill, but we can see room for improvement.

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