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Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Grown-up Governments genuinely try to reduce the harm from dangerous drugs, and I welcome my right hon. Friend's reference to drugs such as Rohypnol, which are of increasing concern to women. Will he elaborate on what he said earlier and tell us exactly how and when women will be able to feel much more protected from those dangerous drugs, which they fear so much?
My hon. Friend is correct. I have been very concerned, and I have seen many cases myself, as I am sure many other Members have, of truly appalling crimes committed as a result of date-rape drugs, including the one that she mentioned. That is why I took the view that it is necessary to understand more effectively the harm that drugs do, and to get them better located. To be candid, I think that there has sometimes been a culture of denial of the effect of those drugs, and those crimes, in certain areas. We need to change that by
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being completely up-front, to examine the classifications and to say that we will deal with all the harmsand I hope that we can succeed in doing that.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that his disappointing and confusing refusal to reclassify cannabis today will lead to an increase in the need for rehabilitation places for users of class A drugs, because cannabis is a stepping-stone drug?
Mr. Clarke: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is expressing the confusion that I have referred to throughout this discussion. What has the impact that he described on the use of class A drugs is the number of people who use cannabis. The key question is how best to reduce the use of cannabis. The subsidiary question is: what role does classification, as opposed to education, health and policing campaigns and so on, play in that? In this statement I have tried to convey what I think is the true point: that the range of attacks on cannabis consumption needs to be enhanced. I have set out a number of means of doing that, and that should be our priority.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Is it not obvious that the Home Secretary is deeply uncomfortable with the statement that he has made, and that if he had been Home Secretary when the decision to reclassify was taken, he would not have made the decision that his predecessor did? Is it not also obvious that he has secured some sort of deal with his colleagues in the Cabinet that, in return for taking the decision not to upgrade the classification again, he can try to get round the problem by addressing the whole issue of classification? He is a loyal team player, but he is letting down the people who ought to be able to depend on him to say what he really believes.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's education policies about the dangers of cannabis, but there is a much better way to get a clearer message acrossand that is reclassification. We promised to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The best way to do that would be to reclassify. Let us have a free vote in the House, and let Members decide the policy.
Mr. Clarke: I am, of course, grateful for my hon. Friend's comments on this question. I hope that he will agreealthough he may notthat education, health, policing, the attack on dealing and on growing and production, and the classification system all go side by side in this debate. We may disagree about classification, but I hope that he will accept that we have an overall strategy across the whole range.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD):
The Secretary of State will know that most schools have a policy whereby if cannabis is found on students on school premises, that normally results in an immediate and permanent exclusion. Yet the police are usually involved, and they often only caution the person. Most parents believe that the draconian penalty exacted by
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the school has a far greater effect on the child than the caution by the police. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to examine the guidance both for schools and for the police, so that when pupils are found with cannabis on school premises, there is a logical penalty somewhere between those two extremes?
Mr. Clarke: There are two points to make. The first is that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, since 1 January the police have had the power to arrest for any offence, including the actions that he describeswhich are offences. That is a matter for the police, irrespective of the actual offence. Secondly, the question that the hon. Gentleman asks is the precise reason why I have asked for stronger ACPO guidelines on such matters, and why ACPO has agreed to provide stronger guidelines, which will be published in due course, to address those points.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Hemp Embassy in Nimbin, Australia is the spiritual home of the legalise cannabis campaign, and it has said that there is a particular problem with home-grown cannabis. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that he will take exactly the opposite approach to that suggested by the Liberal Democrats towards the policing issues with home-grown cannabis?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is correct. That is why I have focused on policing strategies, because those relationships are so important. My hon. Friend has a strong and distinguished record in examining the issue of drug abuse, particularly in working-class communities, and I take his advice seriously. I think that it is important to refocus the policing issue, so as to hit the problem precisely as he describes.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary's acknowledgment of the links between mental illness and cannabis use, but I am disappointed that he does not find that evidence alone sufficient to reclassify it to class B. When he is undertaking his review of the general classification of drugs, may I urge him to give real weight to the gateway properties of cannabis, and the fact that it leads so many users on to hard drugs?
Mr. Clarke: I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. She has a distinguished record of contribution to this debate, and she is right to point out that relationship. I only hope that she can persuade the leader of her party of the merits of her approach.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on reclassification, but there are many good things in my right hon. Friend's statement that are pleasing to my constituents and me. Health and education are devolved matters in the devolved Administrations, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that any good health and education initiatives that come out of this for England and Wales are taken care of in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as well?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his strong campaigning on these issues over a considerable
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period. Yes, I can give him the assurance that he seeks. I had a meeting earlier this week with the First Minister, discussing ways of improving our co-operation, and this is one of those matters on which co-operation can bring mutual benefits.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State's proposals, particularly on education and on targeting supply. I especially welcome his forceful comments on the dangerous links with mental health, because such comments were certainly not forthcoming at the time of reclassification by his predecessor, despite the emerging evidence. Why, however, did the advisory council call for evidence from only one mental health charity? On 5 January, the right hon. Gentleman said:
Would not the best way of combating that confusion be to admit that his predecessor was wrong to reclassify, and to reverse that decision now while his review is going on, thereby sending out a strong message to everybody, "There is no confusion: cannabis is bad"?
Mr. Clarke: It was for the advisory council to decide how to conduct its evidence taking and consideration of the issues. It is an independent bodyrightly soso I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's first question. On his second question, I think that I have dealt with the issues that he raised, but I want to emphasise to the House the importance of evidence and research on this subject. That is why I have announced today that we will conduct significantly more research, especially into the relationship with mental health.
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