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Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend is aware, it is the police work on the ground that is key to combating drug-related crime. So will he join me in welcoming Inspector Trevor Durham and his team from Clay Cross, who are visiting Brixton police colleagues today to hear about the no deal programme on cannabis? Will my right hon. Friend also join me in encouraging more imaginative best practice sharing?
Mr. Clarke: I certainly will welcome my hon. Friend's police colleagues. She has briefed me on that exchange visit. It fits in entirely with the point that I made to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) earlier: that we have to improve our police work in these areas. The community policing in places such as Clay Cross, Holmewood, North Wingfield and Grassmoor is important from that point of view.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con):
Had the previous Home Secretary not declassified cannabis, there is no way that the evidence that the Home
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Secretary has courageously given the House today would have justified his announcing such a declassification today. He has said that he has an open mind. Will he ensure that a priority for his research programme will be to research the use of cannabis by the young people to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) referred? His experience is the same as that of every constituency represented in the House: this is destroying young people's lives, but they are unlikely to respond to the police. We are losing street-worker programmes through a lack of funding and we need to reinstate them. I hope that the Home Secretary will have a conversation with me about how to tackle that matter, because unless we can get those young people to co-operate, their lives will be ruined.
Mr. Clarke: I am happy to have a conversation with the hon. Gentleman about those matters and I respect his own police experience, which informs the way he looks at some of these questions. I agree that the question of police strategy is critical. Our neighbourhood policing strategy and police teams in every locality are important means of tackling that. It is critical to focus on the very large numbers of people who are consuming the drug, and I hope that the ACPO strategy, which will be published in due course, is able to do that.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Should we not take advantage of the Leader of the Opposition's intelligent and progressive views on drugs in order to achieve a consensus and look at what we are doing today, which is based on evidence? What has happened? There were dire warnings that reclassification would lead to an increase in cannabis. It has not. Why do we not look to Portugal, Holland, Australia and other countries and see what the practical outcomes are? This country had 30 years of harsh penalties, followed by even harsher penalties, and has ended up with greater drug use and drug problems than any other country. Why cannot we have a royal commission, or look again at the balanced views of the Health Committee? Of course, I welcome the report and the health campaign, so long as it is balanced with a campaign against the dreadful harm caused by alcohol, tobacco and medicinal drugs.
Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend that one needs to proceed on the basis of evidence. We have sometimes argued about what the evidence tells us, but that is part of the general discussion. Sometimes the battle between alcohol and tobacco, and cannabis is not constructive for the discussion. As I have said, our approach should always be to reduce consumption of all drugs and to work in that way. I look forward to hearing the outcome of the conversation between my hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition about how their approaches to legalisation could inform the whole House. That might be an unholy alliance, but nevertheless an interesting and constructive one.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con):
How can we take the Home Secretary seriously when we know that his Department turns a blind eye to the increasingly widespread use of cannabis inside prisons by convicted prisoners and prison staff?
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Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman's statement is entirely untrue. It is not the case that a blind eye is turned. It is the case that throughout our prison system there are major programmes to reduce drug abuse. What I do say, and I conceded it in my statement earlier, is that we need a renewed focus against cannabis use of all kinds from the police and elsewhere. That is what I have announced today.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his response to the advisory council today. With more than 9 million people admitting to taking the drug at some time and about 10 per cent. saying that they have taken it in the past year, it appears to me that the classification status is not the issue. Will he confirm that the greatest risk on mental health grounds is to young people, and will he ensure that a comprehensive programme on healthy living, reduction and avoidance of all harms be made available in our primary schools, where it is most necessary, so that young children do not indulge in temptation?
Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why I am announcing today joint work with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in relation to schools and with the Secretary of State for Health in relation to the public health White Paper to focus on precisely the young people whom my hon. Friend identifies.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I, too, welcome the review of classification. Some of us have been advocating that for years. Will the Secretary of State assure me that any new system will highlight the relative dangers of different drugs and, most importantly, be credible and realistic, especially for young people?
Mr. Clarke: I am surprised to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Clarity is the most important thing. One of the biggest criticisms of the current classification system is that it does not illuminate debate and understanding among the young people who are affected by it. That is one of the reasons that I have decided to undertake an examination of this matter. It is unfortunate, although I understand why it happens, that all debate around the question is on the classification issue. A more important debate is the education programme, the health programme, policing and those other points.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): The fact is that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the drug and, furthermore, there are more than 20 varieties of the cannabis plant, from hemp, which contains 0 per cent. THC, to skunk, which contains very high quantities of THC. I welcome my right hon. Friend's attempts to re-engage young people in the education debate, but would he give them the correct facts, so that they can avoid skunk, if and whenhopefully notthey choose to buy cannabis on the street?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. I pay tribute to his scientific work to try to get those issues across. Drugs education in schools is far more sophisticated than it used to be. For example, some of the software packages, which I know he is aware of,
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draw out the point that he has made. However, he is right to say that we must focus on real understanding. That is what our education programme will do.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The initial report of the advisory council said that cannabis was harmful, and I was amazed that it came up with the recommendation that it did. It has now published another report that says that it is hugely damaging and come up with the wrong conclusion yet again. What is the compelling evidence against reclassification back to B? If the Home Secretary is looking for clarity and wants to send the right signals to young people, surely the best way of doing that is by reclassifying the drug as a class B drug.
I support the Home Secretary's advertising campaign to get across the message about how damaging cannabis can be. It is not a soft drug; it is very harmful and damagingthe new psychiatric evidence shows what cannabis can do. How much will he spend on advertising how harmful cannabis is? As he will remember, when he reclassified initially, he had to spend £1 million to get the message across that cannabis was still illegal. How much will he spend this time?
Mr. Clarke: I cannot give the House the figure at this moment, but we have a very substantial advertising spend already in this area, and the point about working with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Skills and for Health is that it brings in increased resources. The reason why the advisory council recommended class C rather than classes A or B is that it went through precisely the process that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) identified, of trying to examine the medical harm of particular forms of drugs, all of which are illegal, and all of which do harm. It gave a scientific assessment, and I have to take serious account of thatwhich is what I have done. However, as I said in answer to an earlier question, I do not think that medical harm is the only consideration; there is also harm to society and a range of other questions. That is why I believe that we need to reconsider the classification system. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is sometimes confusion in the messages that emerge. We need a system that does not confuse, but gives clarity.
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