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I think that that is what it is all about. I do not think that the answer is to start a war on people once they have become addicted, although it is of course important to try to give people treatment.

On 7 March this year the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs published a very interesting document, which I commend to Members. It is called “Making drug control ‘fit for purpose’: Building on the UNGASS decade”, and was provided for a conference in Vienna between 10 and 14 March. It looks back over the 100 years during which we have tried to control the misuse of substances throughout the world. I shall return to the report shortly, but the main point that I want to make is that any war on drugs, any zero-tolerance approach or any hard action of that kind merely displaces the problem. There are a number of instances in which we have caused ourselves serious problems.

The Moroccans have been waging a war on the farmers who have been growing cannabis in their country. Seventy per cent. of the cannabis sold in Britain used to come from that source. It is noteworthy that Moroccan cannabis contained only 5 per cent. of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It was smuggled across the straits of Gibraltar to the Costa del Sol. The Spanish were waging a war on drugs all along the coast, and as a result the import of cannabis from Morocco to Europe, including Britain, almost ceased. That created a vacuum in this country, which has now been filled by Thai and Vietnamese criminals who have started to farm cannabis in rented houses all over Britain. In Bolton alone, the police have invaded 30 houses in three months. People have been caught farming cannabis from the cellar to the attic.

Seventy per cent. of the cannabis that is now sold on the streets of Britain is home-grown rather than imported. By stopping the Moroccan trade in cannabis with a 5 per cent. THC content, we have put on to the streets, through our own war on drugs, cannabis with a 15 per cent. THC content, which is causing our young people immense problems. Of course if children of nine or 10 start smoking cannabis of that sort they will blow their minds, and probably even damage their minds.

Mr. Brady: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Iddon: I should prefer to continue, if I may.

We must be very careful about the way in which we apply our policies in this war on drugs. China had a huge problem with opium. In fact, it is often said that we planted opium in China to undermine the social
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structure of that country. So of course there was a war on the use of opium in China. What did we do? We displaced it to the golden triangle. Then we had a war on the use of opium in the golden triangle, and what happened next? It was displaced to Afghanistan. Ninety per cent. of the heroin that comes into this country now comes from Afghanistan. Every time we take action, we displace the problem.

Another example is cocaine production in the Andean countries. Everyone knows that Colombia is, or was, the main source of supply. The Americans sprayed the crops. They gave the Colombian Government arms with which to tackle the rebels who were using the profits of cocaine manufacture to try to take over the Government. What happened there? We displaced production of the coca bush to Bolivia and Peru. The message that I am trying to get across is that the war on drugs does not work.

Most of the cocaine that came into Britain came in via the Caribbean rim countries, especially Jamaica, and Kingston in particular. There were terrible problems with the selling of cocaine to European countries, including Britain. What did we do? We sent the Royal Navy into the Caribbean, and we have had huge successes there, but that has not ended the problem. Although cocaine is still coming into Britain via Jamaica, it is arriving in smaller quantities. Most of it is now going to west Africa, and some west African countries are now experiencing the corruption and deaths that Jamaica has experienced for decades.

We must stop this war on drugs. It simply does not work, and we are spending billions of pounds on it. I am more concerned about the fact that we are displacing people by adopting a zero-tolerance approach and increasing enforcement measures. People do not want to be arrested. They do not want to go to prison, and they do not want criminal records. But there are plenty of drugs available on the internet, and there are plenty of drugs in the doctor’s parlour—he will provide a prescription for them—and those are the drugs to which people are turning now.

Let me quote another interesting statement:

the United Nations has warned, adding:

That is what is happening now. There are role models, from film stars to Robbie Williams. I could name a string of very interesting people who are not using illicit drugs, but getting their “buzz” from prescription drugs and even drugs that can be bought over the counter in the local chemist’s shop, cough mixture included.

I have been concerned about this for 10 years, and when the United Nations document turned up I decided, as chairman of the all-party parliamentary drugs misuse group, to interest the group in launching a public inquiry into the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. We launched one last summer, and so far we have received 75 pieces of evidence from organisations and individuals. It is a pity that I have no time to read out some of the letters from individuals whose relatives are addicted, in old people’s homes or in their own homes.
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Carers have written to me saying, for instance, “The elderly person for whom I am caring is being completely knocked out by the general practitioner, and is addicted to benzodiazepines”, or to over-the-counter or prescription drugs containing codeine or morphine.

That is a huge problem, and it has nothing to do with the war on drugs. It is happening in front of us. I say “By all means adopt a zero-tolerance approach, but you will not stop people seeking relief from the turmoil that their minds are causing them.” For that is the reason why people turn to drug misuse: it is triggered by something that has gone wrong in their lives, perhaps the death of a close relative or a friend. We ought to intervene and help those people instead of locking them up.

The UN says that drug misuse is a “disease of development”. What it means by that is that we in the more developed countries are more subject to stress; we are always increasing our performance and productivity, which increases our stress levels, and we sometimes need to escape from reality in order to get some relief. That is why people turn to misusing not only controlled drugs, but increasingly prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

I have discussed geographical displacement, to borrow a phrase the UN uses. It also mentions substance displacement. Methamphetamine was not a classified drug at one time, but it came on to the scene and we recently bunged it into class A. As a medicinal chemist, I know that every time we classify a drug into categories A, B or C, there will be another drug that is not yet illegal waiting in the queue for some person—or, rather, thousands of people—to misuse. All of this will never stop.

The Science and Technology Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), the RSA—or Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce—and even eminent people such as Professor Colin Blakemore and Professor David Nutt, who is a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, have said that drug classification is a waste of time. This debate about whether cannabis should have been kept in class B, as previously, or should remain in class C, where we have now dropped it, or be put back into class B again is yo-yo politics, and it will have absolutely no effect at all on young people. They want to know which drugs give them a buzz, regardless of whether they are illegal. They want to know how much those drugs cost, too, and as the street prices of drugs are falling, more and more people will, of course, be tempted to try them. It is not the classification of drugs that matters; it is economic factors such as price that switch people on to drugs once they have had a problem in their lives.

This is a complex issue, and I recommend that Members read the recent UN reports. Let me read out one final quote. The UN commission says that

I hope we hear it here this afternoon—“to make the conventions” of 1961, 1971 and 1981, which are the three UN conventions on which our policies are based,

I shall leave the House with that thought.


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1.32 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I enjoyed listening to the speeches of the hon. Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), and I shall re-read them to absorb further what they had to say. I have not previously heard the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East speak on the specific issues before us, although I have heard the hon. Member for Newport, West discuss them. He and I worked together on issues concerning arthritis, so we will not fall out on cannabis. However, I will just say to both those hon. Members that I fundamentally disagree with their views on cannabis.

We have a good and competent Minister, and I listened carefully to his comments. I wish him well, but he has a tough battle ahead. In my early years in the House, when I represented a different constituency, a constituent called Leah Betts died as a result of ecstasy; her father later became an adviser to the Government. A satirical programme managed to gain admittance to this House and interviewed me about a drug called “cake”. Lord Newton of Braintree had the Minister’s job at the time. His officials answered the questions we tabled on “cake”; we as Members of Parliament did not know whether “cake” was a slang term. I am hardly a superstar, but even nowadays sometimes when I walk along a street a very young person will run up to me who has seen that bit of television footage—it is shown over and again. What I usually say to them is, “Okay, you thought it was funny, but did it actually put you off taking drugs?” Obviously, the parents of Leah Betts were not particularly pleased at the trivialisation of the matter.

On cannabis, I say to the hon. Members for Bolton, South-East and for Newport, West, “Forget the classification.” I was a Member in 2003 when we voted on the matter. Eleven Labour Members voted against. The current Prime Minister thought that we should change the classification. It is not about the classification; it is about the impression it gave to young people, which was absolutely wrong. Why did we not listen to Marjorie Wallace of SANE, who really does know what she is talking about?

I am not about to tell the Minister that locking such youngsters up in prison will provide a solution. What my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said was right. I do not understand why our prisons are awash with drugs—perhaps I am being na├»ve—but they are. I wish the Minister a fair wind in trying to deal with that as part of his strategy. It is a terrible situation.

The psychotic effect of cannabis is absolutely proven. I wish the Government had listened then to the advice of the International Narcotics Control Board. This week, senior police officers have said that changing the classification was not a good idea. Where were they in 2003 and 2004? Were their words not reported? Also, why was the current Prime Minister not against the reclassification? I understand the point that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East made, but we should think about the impression that it gave. All Members have constituents who come along to their surgeries and tell them about the devastating consequences of cannabis on the lives of young people.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?


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Mr. Amess: I shall do so—but only briefly—as I have dropped my papers.

Paul Flynn: One of the pressing arguments that persuaded the then Home Secretary to change the classification was evidence from parents of young people who had died of heroin poisoning. They said that their young people had gone through the following journey. They had been told that cannabis is a terribly dangerous drug, but then when they used it they found that they did not have great problems with it. Therefore, they disbelieved the fables they had been told, so they then disbelieved what they thought were fables about heroin. The idea was to make a difference between the classifications of cannabis—which has its dangers, of course—and heroin, which is far more dangerous.

Mr. Amess: I said that I was not going to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, but I must say that his view on cannabis is absolutely wrong.

Let me conclude by making a plea. Over the last week or so, a Liberal peer insulted Essex when he attacked a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). However, I noticed that yesterday the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) was wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Proud to come from Essex”. We in Essex have a wonderful organisation called 2 Smart 4 Drugs; I will send the Minister some details about it. As we all know, the first step towards effective prevention is early education, and that is what it specialises in. It is an award-winning drugs and alcohol community project, organised by Essex police in conjunction with Essex FM. I have attended some of its presentations. This is not money wasted; it gets real results, but—the Minister knows what I am about to say—it needs more money. The organisation is led by Victoria Wilson of Essex police and a wonderful lady called Pam Withrington, whose aunt, Jo Robinson, tragically lost her son as a result of drug misuse. I ask that the Minister, in his very difficult task, look at this project, which has made a big difference in Essex.

I hope that the House will come to a positive conclusion, because all Members are united in trying to do something about this situation—I will not call it a war—but it is a very tough nut to crack.

1.39 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): We may all be united, but there are different points of view on this matter. There may be a vagueness in being united about the fact that we will do something about it, but what politician would say publicly or privately, or would even think to themselves, “Well, we’ll do nothing about the issue of drugs, and pretend it isn’t there.”

One of the problems with drugs debates in this House—this weakness has hidden some of the successes of the Government’s drugs policy—is the use and misuse of statistics. The key weakness in the Government’s drugs strategy is not the strategy itself, but the assessment of outcomes and the precise measurements. Let us consider the example of cannabis. Everybody knows, and the research on this will soon come through to show—it is only just emerging—that there has been a huge fall in cannabis use. The cause is pretty obvious to me: it is called the smoking ban. That makes me particularly pleased that I voted for the smoking ban.


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Dr. Iddon rose—

John Mann: With respect, I do not think there is time to take interventions.

People are smoking far less, so people are smoking cannabis far less. I have seen no evidence of any diversion towards people baking cannabis cakes or anything like that. Cannabis use is decreasing. That does not mean that where someone does use cannabis, it is more or less of a problem than it was before.

The information is there. I am sure that all hon. Members have read my 2002 report to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, in which I described in great detail hydroponics and cannabis, the experience of the Vietnamese ex-pat community in Australia, in Melbourne in particular, and what would happen here when those techniques were used. In essence, people would grow for profit in their houses, using the latest techniques, on an industrial scale. That happened in Australia, because a market existed, and it has happened in the UK. Wherever the new markets in drugs emerge—the most difficult markets will be in chemical concoctions of one kind or another that are created not abroad but here in the UK—the drugs involved will be the new wave that will come into this country. The drugs I am talking about are already here, but their use will grow. We can see all this from the evidence of what has happened elsewhere.

However, monitoring outcomes would give the Government some good news. They would be able to declare, as they will at some stage, that cannabis use has declined. More importantly, analysis of school exclusions in respect of drugs and alcohol demonstrates absolutely that drugs and alcohol are not a major problem in schools. There is no evidence of such a problem; minor numbers are being disciplined. If my schoolkids are asked, they say, “A few teachers come in the worse for wear for alcohol, but do you think we would be stupid enough to buy or use drink or drugs in school? We know where to get it outside if we want it.”

Let us examine one of the great myths, because the Government have the statistics to quantify things. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) is wrong about overdose deaths. On the basis of the classifications used by coroners’ courts, the number of deaths from heroin overdose in this country is falling. Nowhere is that more the case than in my constituency, where the fall has been huge. In 2002, 11 of my constituents died because of heroin, but only two have done so in the past four years. The matter is quantifiably provable.

As for accident and emergency admissions, I recommend that every hon. Member ask their local hospital whether the drugs strategy is working in their area and monitor the situation. The figures on accident and emergency admissions for an overdose of injectable drugs give a clear trend line. In my area, a fourfold reduction has taken place, which means that the drugs strategy, particularly with regard to heroin, is working there. Strangely, the biggest reduction in Britain in the number of house burglaries has occurred in my area—and I suggest that there is a correlation. In monitoring those outcomes, the Government should be pulling those correlations together. I do not care who takes the credit—the police, the Government, the health service or charities. Everyone can have some credit.


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