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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I do not want to be antagonistic, but does the hon. Gentleman have any empirical evidence whatever to support the thesis that milk drinking leads to whisky drinking, or that cannabis smoking leads to the injection of diamorphine hydrochloride?

Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that friendly intervention. No, I cannot say that drinking milk leads one on to whisky, but I am advised by many police officers that most heroin addicts started
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on cannabis. I am not an expert on the subject, as I said at the beginning of my speech, so I am persuaded by the views of the many police officers to whom I have spoken, who work at the sharp end of the business.

We must teach young people about the evils of drugs in terms of their cost and the health effects, and we must stress how stupid it is to take drugs. We cannot do that while reducing the classification of the so-called recreational drug. I have Front-Bench responsibilities on other days for the Consumer Credit Bill. I said on Second Reading of that Bill that legislation cannot cure all the ills, and I accept that that applies to this Bill as well. Much depends on education.

We have a difficult situation in this country, and probably throughout the so-called developed world, where attitudes do not help to combat drugs. We hear a great deal about civil liberties, and I agree with the Secretary of State when he says that one man's civil liberties are another man's ruined life. I paraphrase, but that was his general message. We must work on the basis that we believe in the freedom of the individual under the rule of law. When it comes to drugs, we need such law.

Mr. Pound: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson: I hope this will be an easier intervention than the last one.

Mr. Pound: The hon. Gentleman's prayers are answered. Would he be interested to know that I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was trying to present to the House Sir Isaiah Berlin's famous comment that liberty for the shark does not necessarily mean liberty for the minnow?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman puts it far better than I could have put it, and far better than the Secretary of State put it, too, which is not surprising. He has been in the House an awful lot longer than I have, but I have been here long enough to know not to take him on in combat. I will not go further down that route.

I want to re-emphasise my main points: we need a stronger law, and I will therefore support the Bill, which moves us in that direction. We need the right messages to be sent from Parliament about drugs, and we need better rehabilitation treatment, and as in so many other walks of life, better education.

I want to conclude on the point with which I started: the drugs problem is not beaten, and I am not yet persuaded that, at the moment, we are beating it.

4.5 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I welcome this Bill, for one reason: that we can debate drugs in the House today. After all, it is the third largest business in the world in terms of producing the raw materials, trafficking them to nearly every country in the world, and selling them illegally, in most countries in the world, to people who suffer as a result of the illicit drugs market.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is right that it was useful to have a drugs tsar, for one reason alone: it allowed us to have an annual report,
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which allowed us to have an annual debate. When we lost the drugs tsar, we lost the annual debate. Bearing in mind what I said about drugs being the third largest business in the world, I have always argued—I have raised this matter at business questions—that we ought to have an annual debate on what, after all, is one of the biggest social problems facing Britain today. We need to measure how our Executive, the Government, are getting on with the powers that we give them to tackle what is a vicious problem.

I am glad that, today, the phrase "the war on drugs" has not been used all over the House. I hate that expression. In my estimation, we cannot have a war on drugs: what we must have is a war on the causes of the misuse of drugs. In my opinion, those causes are simple: poverty and social exclusion. The poor people of Colombia and Afghanistan are forced, because they have nothing else to grow and no infrastructure to transport it, to grow the raw materials that are exported to the west—coca in one case, and heroin in the other—and in any case, there is much greater profit in that. Certainly, those people are socially excluded and poor. When the drugs come over to a modern, westernised country such as Britain, it is largely the poor and socially excluded who suffer as a result of using the end product. It is ironic that a connection exists between one country and another in that way.

Drug selling is the biggest pyramid selling racket in the world. Reference was made to the fact that someone can be taken out of the pyramid and another person pops in. That is the nature of pyramid selling—the profits in the pyramid are so great that it never collapses. Even Mr. Big at the top stays, and if he is taken out, another Mr. Big goes into the same pyramid, whether it is the Italian mafia or another organisation that trades drugs, such as the IRA. In my estimation, the only way to collapse the global drugs trade is to collapse those pyramids. Economically, the only way to collapse a global pyramid that is making fantastic profits is to collapse the profits, which can only be done by taking out the risk and all the enforcement action throughout the world.

My views on decriminalisation have been expressed in the House previously. Prohibition will never win this war, if we want to call it that. I have always argued that we should move away from the enforcement end of the spectrum and towards the health end. Many of those who take drugs are sick people—we are talking about addicts.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) mentioned that a recent report about dual diagnosis states that 80 per cent. of people who misuse drugs are also mentally ill. I am chairman of the drugs misuse all-party group, which is meeting right now. Four or five years ago, we conducted a survey on dual diagnosis, which estimated that 40 per cent. of people who misuse drugs are also mentally ill. I expect that the percentage has gone up because more people use drugs now, but 80 per cent. seems rather high. Whatever the figure, we should never forget that many people who misuse drugs are mentally ill. The scale on which we criminalise mentally ill people is perhaps wrong, although if you have committed a crime, you have committed crime, and we should take those aggravating circumstances into consideration.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) referred to the difficulties with treatment services, which still fail to recognise that they are often dealing with people who not only misuse drugs but are mentally ill. People who misuse drugs often have multiple complex problems: they may be homeless; they may have been excluded from their families because of their drug misuse; they may have few friends; and they may lead completely antisocial lives. To get those people back into society requires not only a policeman on the doorstep but a complete holistic service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw made the point that all those individuals are different—they come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences. In the past, many drug users who went into prostitution were unfortunately from care homes, which was tragic and sad. The Government have taken action by increasing care through social services from the age of 18 to the age of 21. That is one of the ways in which we are tackling the problem, and that point is often not flagged up in debates such as this.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend has probably anticipated my intervention by mentioning my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. By and large, methadone is not used in the experiments in Bassetlaw, and it is not used in France, where a drug that blocks the additional use of heroin, which prevents people from overdosing and from using heroin at the same time as methadone, is used. Is it not time that we did something as a country to try to expand such experiments? I hope to convince people in Scotland, where the main substitute for heroin is methadone, that it is time to examine other drugs that block the use of heroin.

Dr. Iddon: I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned that point, which I shall develop in detail in a moment.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the psychiatric needs of many drug users, and I agree with him on that point. Although he comes at the problem from a completely different angle from me—he supports legalisation or decriminalisation and I do not—will he concede that many people who now use cannabis, which is completely different from the cannabis that was available in the 1960s, will need psychiatric services in the future if they continue to take the drug at their current pace?

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