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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):
The debate has revealed that a wide range of views are held on both sides of the House, which probably reflects the complexity of the question of drugs and the problems faced by our society.
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I start by acknowledging the wider audience outside the House and the valuable work on drugs carried out by people throughout the country. Many hon. Members have mentioned the counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare teams in prisons, drug action teams, general practitioners and the voluntary sector. We never underestimate such people's contribution to our society and I never cease to wonder at the time that people give to try to help others with chaotic lives to find a productive way forward.
I acknowledge the excellent contributions that hon. Members on both sides of the House have made. We heard good interventions on the Secretary of State from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, like many of us, is rightly concerned about the guidance that will be available for schools and head teachers. I hope that the Minister will touch on that point in her winding-up speech or in Committee.
The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) is a well-known "legaliser" and is to be commended for his consistent approach to the subject, whether one agrees with him or not. He accused the Minister of producing an atrocious piece of knee-jerk legislation, the like of which he has rarely seen under this Labour Government, if at all. He thinks that the decision to legislate on magic mushrooms is laughable. He believes that the Bill has not been based on evidencemore of that later. However, the hon. Gentleman acknowledged the mental health issues. Indeed, he has been examining those with the Council of Europe. I hope to hear more of those when he is made a member of the Committee that considers the Bill. He is concerned about coerced abstinence against voluntary abstinence and its record of success. Once again, we heard from a classic and genuine legaliser. I hope that in the same way as all of us acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman has been consistent in his approach, he will acknowledge that others are equally genuine in wanting a drug-free society and are starting from that base.
The hon. Gentleman followed my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). He should know that my right hon. Friend raised the subject of khat with the Minister. The hon. Gentleman also raised the subject of khat although he is against, as we could imagine, that being included in the Bill. It is to be hoped that we can consider that in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman also took on board the wider problems in Colombia, Peru and Afghanistan and the supply chain for drugs. It is interesting that he said that he hoped that the House of Lords will throw out the Bill. I do not know whether he knows something that we do not. Obviously the timing of the Bill is an issue.
That was echoed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who likewise thought that there was more than a whiff of popularism about the Bill, but, like us, he will not oppose it. It is interesting that he raised points that I, too, would want to pursue in Committee on the levels of dealer quantities of drugs and possible regional variations. The hon. Gentleman referred to the practical problems and the issue of holding people for 192 hours. These are matters that will
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bear much closer scrutiny when we consider the Bill in Committee, where it will be interesting to hear the views that are expressed by Members on both sides of it.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who has great knowledge of this subject, made an excellent contribution to the debate. He challenged the evidence, based on his own investigations in his constituency. The issue of dealing within the vicinity of schools has been brought into question, and the hon. Gentleman referred to a network in schools that passes on knowledge of where to get drugs. The hon. Gentleman and I need issues around that matter to be clarified, so the Minister will have to deal with that.
The definition of assessors and follow-up assessors has been mentioned. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw criticised the failure of the qualification of assessors, if I might put it in that way. I want to know, and I want to press the Minister in Committee, about the qualifications of those who are providing advice and treatment on drugs. Many people are involved and there are no benchmarks and no qualifications governing them. The Minister could and should have addressed that issue within the Bill.
I take my hat off to the general practitioners in Bassetlaw because it is obvious that they have been doing a great deal of work. When there is effective intervention in the drug-taking community, we see the results. That has been shown in the accident and emergency treatment for drug overdoses, where there has been a decline in such admissions, as there has been in admissions for other drug-related problems. That is an important development.
Certain problems underlie the Bill but I am interested in pursuing the idea of the GP having a pivotal role and examining what treatment GPs are able to provide. Too often people who are referred for treatment that they willingly want to have are told, "Go away. It will be three or four months before we can find you a suitable place somewhere." That situation must be addressed, but the Bill fails to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made an excellent speech, will be introducing a private Member's BillI make no apology for doing a commercial for itthe Drugs (Sentencing and Commission of Enquiry) Bill, which will be in the House in a starring role on 25 February. I hope that my hon. Friend will be speaking to packed Benches, unlike tonight. I hope also that the Minister will respond positively to my hon. Friend's Bill. Indeed, I throw out a challenge to her, as she could easily undercut my hon. Friend's starring role on 25 February by adding the provisions in his Bill to the Drugs Bill.
The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) spoke about drugs and crime as well as the cost of crime in Barnsley. He also referred to the heroin problem. I was not quite sure about his definition
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of problematic drug users, but he left me with the impression that there was not a seamless set of treatments and interventions in Barnsley. I was particularly worried by his point about reductions in the "Supporting People" budget. I should like the Minister to address that serious problem, as it is not an isolated incident. The "Supporting People" budget is used for drug interventions, but it has been reduced by the Government. The Minister and the Secretary of State may need to take serious action to ensure that it is reinstated throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) made some pertinent points about the Government's mixed message on drugs. By the Minister's own admission, there is such a message; otherwise the Home Office would not have spent £1 million reinforcing the fact that cannabis is still illegal after its reclassification. It is similar to the mixed message on 24-hour licensing and binge drinkingthe muddle and confusion must be put right, as it is not good for our society and it is not good government. The message is not consistent or strong enough, and that view is shared in many parts of the House.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman said that he was asked to speak longer than usual, and so he did. When a lecturer is asked to address an audience there is a danger that he will not know when to sit down but, none the less, the House learned a great deal from the hon. Gentleman's speech. I, too, would like to know about naltraxone and the use of methadone alternatives. It is a reflection on society that we have started to treat maintenance as the norm. Some people should be on methadone for 16 weeks and should be capable of coming off it, but we are maintaining them on it for 16 years. There are therefore some important issues to consider. I have heard about the vaccine to treat addiction, and almost thought that it was a magic mushroom. It appears to be a magic vaccine, but if it is proving advantageous in the tests that are being run, the Government should consider its use. We are familiar with the problem of false positives in drug testing, and must examine it in Committee. We disagree about magic mushrooms, but the call for the evidence base is important, and the Minister must respond to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) made a characteristically measured and thoughtful contribution in which he supported the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley. He also dealt with the drop-out rates in treatment, which is a concern for all of us. His robust defence of his constituent, Dr. Garfoot, should not pass unnoticed. The hon. Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall) gave us the Scottish perspective, but
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the Bill does not extend to Scotland. It extends to Northern Ireland, so I hope that the Minister will explain what is happening in Scotland.
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