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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I really must ask hon. Members to relate their comments specifically to the Bill. They should explain how their experiences can helpfully shed light on particular provisions in the Bill.
Mr. Purchase: Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. The question of the police powers granted by the Bill is interesting. The police have many duties and it seems to me that, unless we tackle these problems at source, we shall be placing a load on the police, which is bound to detract from their other important work. We should not exclude from consideration the issue of drunken behaviour, which is a serious problem, as are burglaries and many other crimes that are being committed in our communities as we speak.
To conclude, it is noble and proper that the Bill should tackle the problems of drug addiction and all the harm that it causes. However, it is even more important to look at how society operates in order to understand how the opportunities are given to the criminal classes to squeeze those who live in poor circumstances. As I say, that is far more important than the Bill itself. I wish the Bill well, but I know that when it is passed and the real work starts, we will still have serious underlying problemsin our nation and perhaps elsewherethat will ultimately have to be dealt with in social and economic, rather than clinical, terms.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I apologise for my yo-yo attendance during the debate. I was in my place for the opening speeches, but I had diary commitments that pre-dated the time at which I realised that I would be sitting in Committee on this Bill.
The Bill will command cross-party support, and I am afraid that I have no interesting personal confessions to make on the subject. I want to concentrate on the proposed new subsection 4A(4) to (7) in clause 1it is an insertion into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971which relates to the dealing of drugs in the vicinity of schools. I am a little concerned that the provision specifies one hour before a school opens or after it closes. I wonder whether that will be sufficient. I am a governor of one particular secondary school and I know that it carries out activities over a much longer period than that.
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Perhaps we could discuss the issue in Committee, as many schools conduct activities in the evenings and have homework clubs, breakfast clubs and so forth going on.
Caroline Flint: The Bill does cover that. The proposal about one hour before and after the school day would apply outside term time too. We recognise that schools are at the centre of their communities and that young people should be able to use them in the holidays as well as before and after the school day. However, we can look at the clause in more detail in Committee, to assure hon. Members on this point.
I shall concentrate on why I think dealers are attracted to schools, almost like bees around a honey pot. I anticipate the intervention that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) wants to make by saying that the reason for that is that schools offer a ready source of customers. As I have said many times, I blame the style and content of drug education material for the level of demand. That material is misguided. We could do more to reduce demand, and the levels of drug taking among young people, if we stopped concentrating on harm reduction and concentrated instead on prevention. Most of the literature used to support drugs education concentrates on harm reduction and on the provision of comprehensive information about every aspect of drugs and their consumption that one could possibly imagineand about some aspects that one could not imagine.
John Mann: The hon. Lady speaks about drug dealing outside schools. Over the past 10 years, there has been an above-average number of arrests and convictions for drug dealing in my constituency, but I can find no examples of any such incidents taking place outside school gates. Can the hon. Lady give the House specific examples from her constituency of arrests and convictions for drug dealing outside schools?
Angela Watkinson: No, I cannot, but head teachers in my area and the local education authority tell me that drugs are in circulation and in use in our schools. We must do everything possible to prevent that.
I shall give a couple of examples of printed material that I think is misguided and going in the wrong direction. It may be well intentioned, but its effect is the exact opposite of what we would want. I shall quote a paper by Mary Brett, who is well known to all of us who take an interest in this subject. Until recently, she was head of health education at Dr. Challoner's grammar school in Amersham. She says that the press
"have widely publicised the true and very alarming picture of the relationship between cannabis and psychosis, and the steady increase in the number of young psychiatric patients, 80 per cent. of whom have a cannabis history. A fact that is well played down by FRANK . . . FRANK merely suggests that 'some people can get anxious and paranoid especially if they are smoking the stronger varieties'."
By urging young people merely to take precautions and reduce the possible harm caused by cannabis use, I believe that we are missing an opportunity to warn them
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and so prevent them from using cannabis in the first place. Brett goes on to state:
"On average, the THC content today is 5 per cent. compared with 0.5 per cent. in the sixties10 times stronger . . . Its THC strength can vary from 9 to 27 per cent. FRANK says, 'Some people may find it too strong and the experience disturbing, while others may enjoy the greater effects'. What about those who may have an acute psychotic episode requiring hospitalisation? Why mention the fact that 'increasing amounts of this are being home grown for private use'?"
"It is irresponsible to say that physical addiction is unlikely. Around 10 per cent. of those who ever try the drug will become addicted according to Professor Wayne Hall, the Australian researcher. And, out of the 6 million drug addicts currently in the USA, around 4 million are cannabis-dependent."
I imagine that all hon. Members received the briefing paper from the London Drug Policy Forum, in preparation for this debate. The forum is funded by the Corporation of London. It has partnerships with the 32 London boroughs, central Government and regional government, drugs service providers, law enforcement agencies and community groups. It states that its intention isin the buzz phrase used in all these publications
All those three factors are important, but they will not work unless we reduce the number of new addicts. Providing residential treatment would be wholly unaffordable if more addicts continued to come along. Unless we stop the source, we will not be able to afford to treat the addicts that we have already.
Then there is "Score". I do not know how many hon. Members have seen that delightful little publication, but it tells people everything they could possibly want to know about drugswhat they are, what they do, every possible drug on the market and what the law says about them. But it is entirely the wrong approach to provide lots of value-free, non-judgmental information to young people who are too immature to make adult decisions with it. They need guidance and they are not getting it.
"Even drugs education does not aim to discourage drug use. 'Harm reduction' in the drugs field is a philosophy which, instead of seeking to prevent drug use, seeks to reduce some of the damaging effects of drug use."
No. What I said was that none of those strategies will work without drug misuse prevention. They have to be underpinned by prevention,
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but that is not happening. Harm reduction is a damage limitation exercise and it is not enough. We need far more than that.
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