25 Feb 2005 : Column 553

House of Commons

Friday 25 February 2005

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

9.33 am

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 14.

Division No. 96
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:Mr. Eric Forth and Mr. Nigel Evans


Conway, Derek
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Gardiner, Barry
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Hawkins, Nick
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Mactaggart, Fiona
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Ottaway, Richard
Pound, Stephen
Randall, John

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Nick Ainger and
Laura Moffatt

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 40 Members were present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative.

25 Feb 2005 : Column 553

Orders of the Day

Drugs (Sentencing and Commission of   Inquiry) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.44 am

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is with great pleasure that I present the Bill to the House. The use of drugs in this country has reached crisis levels in parts of our society and it affects us all, whether directly, through family members who are caught in the cycle of addiction, or indirectly, through crime that is fuelled by people's need to buy more drugs. All that is going on against the background of a Government who have sent all the wrong signals on drugs. The reclassification of drugs such as cannabis has sent those wrong signals throughout the country and many people now believe that it is safe to use cannabis. The aim of the Bill is to redress those problems, to give more powers to the police and the courts to combat our drug culture, and to look into the effects of cannabis so that the Government can see that the drug that they have gone soft on is actually quite dangerous and harmful.

To summarise for my right hon. and hon. Friends, my Bill has three main strands, which I will consider individually: the use of a mandatory seven-year jail sentence if a dealer is caught selling class A drugs for the third time, the use of a custodial sentence for any adult convicted of selling class A drugs to a minor for profit, and the establishment of an independent commission to look into the effects of cannabis and to make recommendations to the Government on its classification.

Penalties for drug selling are rightly very harsh. Some 85 per cent. of all drug offenders are convicted of unlawful possession, but, although maximum penalties are severe, most offences are dealt with by fines and nearly three quarters of those fines are less than £50. The state of the drug problem in the United Kingdom has shocked me as I have looked into it. In 2002, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its landmark report on drugs in the United Kingdom, "The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?", found that drugs are easily available. About 4 million people use at least one illegal drug each year and about 1 million people use class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy.

The cost of those illegal drugs has plummeted in recent years, which has made it even easier for people to get their hands on them. The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit reported that the cost of drugs is at its lowest level for a decade. It highlights that, in 1995, heroin cost £80 a gram and that it now costs £35 a gram. That trend also applies to cocaine, which used to cost £56 a gram in 1995, but now costs £45 a gram. A newspaper recently reported that a line of cocaine is now the same price as a cup of coffee bought from Starbucks. That probably says more about the price of cocaine than about the price of coffee at Starbucks.

The trafficking of drugs into the United Kingdom has also continued to increase in recent years because organised criminals and gangs are making huge profits
25 Feb 2005 : Column 555
at all the stages of getting drugs into the country. The last figures available show that the number of people arrested for trafficking cocaine has doubled. There has also been a large rise in the number of arrests for cannabis and crack cocaine trafficking, so we have a huge problem in our country and on our streets. Cannabis use has risen by more than a third, ecstasy use has doubled and cocaine use has risen by 250 per cent. over the past eight years.

Evidence clearly shows the amount that drug use has gone up in the past three decades. In 1969, 4 per cent. of people used amphetamines, 2 per cent. used cannabis and less than 0.5 per cent. used other drugs. The British crime survey reported in 2002–03 that a third of 16 to 59-year-olds had tried drugs at least once in their lifetime. It also reports that cannabis is the most frequently used drug in all age groups. About 3 million 16 to 59-year-olds have used cannabis in the past year, with a quarter—about 1.5 million—of 16 to 24-year-olds admitting to using it in the past year.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported in November 2003 that Britain had the highest use of cocaine in Europe, with 7 per cent. of 15 to 24-year-olds admitting to using it recently. Deaths owing to drugs have risen sharply in recent years, too. In 2002, there were 2,685 drug-related deaths in England and Wales—an increase of 19 per cent. compared with the number of such deaths in 1993. That represents 5.1 drug-related deaths per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales.

An obvious side effect for us all in the war against drugs is the effect that the rise in drug use has on drug-related crime. According to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) in his speech to the House on 18 January this year, about three quarters of hard drug users commit crime to obtain drugs. In February 2002, the Home Office cited figures from a study by York university showing that the cost of drug-related crime in the United Kingdom could be as much as £19 billion a year.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Does my hon. Friend intend in any part of his analysis to make a comparison with the use of tobacco and alcohol, both as addictive substances and, particularly in the case of alcohol, as contributors to crime? It has always struck me as being rather odd that, in any discussion about drugs, we often tend to ignore the fact that substances legally obtainable in this country can in many ways be just as damaging.

Mr. Evans: I did not intend to point that out because I know very little about statistics that show that people go out to commit crime to fuel their purchases of alcohol or tobacco products. As regards cannabis, for those who mix it with tobacco to use, it is the tobacco that is addictive, which creates the problem of people becoming addicted to cannabis through the tobacco.
25 Feb 2005 : Column 556
The smuggling of huge amounts of tobacco and alcohol into the United Kingdom is a major crime, and I declare my interest as the owner of a retail business in Swansea.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the British crime survey shows that two thirds of violent crime is related to alcohol abuse and use?

Mr. Evans: I concede immediately that there is a serious problem in this country with those who cannot control their alcohol consumption and go on to commit violent crime. That needs to be looked at, particularly in relation to extended licensing hours. We must be ever vigilant against such crime, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing that topic into the debate.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): My hon. Friend is opening the debate in sterling form, and I congratulate him on presenting his Bill. Does he agree that, despite the problems that are faced in our prisons by prisoners who are dependent on drugs and alcohol, it is a great shame that there are no specific accredited alcohol treatment programmes with ring-fenced funding in any of our prisons in England or Wales?

Next Section IndexHome Page