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Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister outline the Government’s plans to change the policy of overcharging prisoners for phone calls to their families? All the evidence shows that if the calls were
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charged at the same rate as normal telephone calls, reoffending would fall considerably as a result of greater contact with offenders’ families.

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend is right: contact with families is crucial. We are currently engaged in consultations and discussions with providers about the cost of telephone calls. As my hon. Friend will know, contracts are already in place, but I am looking into what steps can be taken at their conclusion to reduce the cost of calls further.

T8. [230404] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What plans has the Secretary of State for Justice to revisit the sentencing guidelines dating from 2003, particularly those relating to aggravated offences of burglary and shoplifting, to ensure that the most stringent sentences can be given? He will be aware of the poignant case, reported today, in which a burglar used aggression and violence towards a pregnant lady and her young daughter. Although the judge wished to hand down a custodial sentence, the guidelines prevented him from doing so.

Mr. Straw: All the guidelines are kept under review, but the House will understand that I cannot comment on that particular case in any detail, for two reasons: first, it would be inappropriate in any event, and secondly, all the information that I have is from the newspaper report, which, although it may be entirely accurate, is bound to be selective. What I have done, however—I invite the House to do the same—is examine both the lead decision by the Court of Appeal in McInerney and Keating and the guidelines. The guidelines clearly allow the existence of a vulnerable victim, along with other circumstances that appear to parallel those mentioned in the report, to constitute an aggravating factor, and allow the issuing of a custodial sentence in such circumstances.

It is important for everyone to understand that these are guidelines. Courts can and do depart from them. When they do, there may be an appeal, but it is then for the Court of Appeal to make its own judgments. Nothing whatever in the guidelines could force a sentencer to make a decision against his or her own will and judgment if, having taken account of all the circumstances, he or she believed that there should be a departure from the guidelines. If there is any argument about that, it can safely be left to later decisions by the Court of Appeal criminal division—and I repeat that the guidelines themselves provide for aggravating factors, and explicitly define the existence of a vulnerable victim as an aggravating factor.

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Speaker’s Statement

3.27 pm

Mr. Speaker: I have a statement to make. I have looked into the matter that was raised by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on Thursday. The position is, as he said, that the licence for the use of loudhailers has run out, and I have caused that to be drawn to the attention of Westminster council.

As the hon. Gentleman also said, legislation governing this matter, and the powers needed by the police to ensure the proper functioning of Parliament, are still being considered. I would expect consultation by the Government with myself and with the House authorities. I hope that the concerns of Members, staff and others who come here—in terms of both access to the building and disturbance from noise—will have been duly taken into account when the legislative proposals are put before the House.

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Gamma-Butyrolactone (Prohibition)

3.28 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): I beg to move,

I know from conversations with the Roofie Foundation, Europe’s only drug-assisted rape agency, that there are date rape victims in my constituency, and many other Members—indeed, far too many—will find that the same applies in their constituencies.

The Government have already taken firm action to tackle date rape. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 formally acknowledged it as a crime, and made it an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison to administer any stupefying substance with the intent of overpowering the victim in order to engage him or her in sexual activity. Over the past few years, the Government have also outlawed the most commonly used date-rape drugs. I refer in particular to ketamine, Rohypnol and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid. I welcome that action, and urge the Government to continue in the same vein with gamma-butyrolactone, or GBL as it is more commonly known. GBL is an industrial solvent, and is a common component in cleaning products. Although it does have legitimate uses, it is increasingly being used to facilitate date rape, and as a recreational drug. In fact, as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs points out, there is evidence that it is precisely because GHB was outlawed that we have seen an increase in the use of GBL, with users switching to an almost identical, but entirely legal, alternative. Indeed, as GHB has already been banned and GBL turns into GHB on ingestion, there is already an a priori case for extending that ban to GBL.

The precise effects of GBL will, of course, vary according to the user and the dose taken, but it is likely to leave the victim confused, dazed, drowsy, and even unconscious, thereby rendering them incapable of resisting sexual advances. These effects may occur within as little as 15 minutes, and can last for up to 8 hours. It is also a popular choice of drug because it is so difficult to spot. When dissolved in soft drinks, beers and spirits, it is colourless, odourless, invisible and indiscernible in taste. GBL is undetectable in blood and urine after 10 to 12 hours. Not only is it, therefore, difficult for the victim to spot, but it is difficult to trace once the attack has taken place.

It is precisely because it is so difficult to prosecute for date rape and secure convictions that the law needs to be used to prevent drugs such as GBL from being available. At present, the police have no power to confiscate GBL, and clubs cannot say to a customer, “We know that liquid is illegal and we are calling the police”. They can act only when an offence involving GBL has been committed, but, unfortunately, this is often too late—not only too late in terms of the chances of securing a conviction, but, more importantly, too late for the women themselves.

Although my remarks today will focus on the dangers of GBL when used in the commission of date rape, its use is by no means limited to that. It is also widely used as a recreational drug, particularly on the clubbing scene, where it is considered a kind of cheaper liquid
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ecstasy. Although it can induce feelings of euphoria and disinhibition, its effects are most certainly not benign, and it has been implicated in two deaths in the past month alone. Such loss of life is avoidable, and if the Government are serious about tackling date rape, as I believe they have shown themselves to be, it is essential that this loophole is closed as a matter of urgency.

In fact, the Government accept that case. In 2006, the Home Office asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—the independent body whose role is to advise Government on drug control in the UK—to look into GBL, and its response was unambiguous: GBL should be brought under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and classified as a class C drug. Such a proposal, moreover, commands cross-party support; my Bill has sponsors from across the House. It also has the backing of the experts in this area; my Bill is supported by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Roofie Foundation and nightclubs themselves. It also enjoys popular support, as evidenced by the number of people who have signed up to the petition launched by Cosmopolitan magazine. However, despite the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, two years on GBL is still perfectly legal.

The question therefore is not why GBL should be prohibited, but why GBL has not already been outlawed. My fear is that GHB and GBL are not only chemically similar, but that they will follow a similarly protracted route to prohibition. It was in the early 1990s that people first became aware of GHB, and in particular of its use in cases of date rape, but it was not outlawed until 2003; in other words, that took a decade, and a plethora of reports and consultations, all of which confirmed that GHB should be a controlled substance.

Two years have already passed since the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs first recommended GBL’s prohibition, and it is still perfectly legal to supply GBL. It is quick and straightforward and frighteningly easy to buy GBL, particularly online. In addition, as the recent report in Cosmopolitan highlighted, there are no checks or controls on its purchase. At £25 for 250 ml, it is also extremely cheap, with an active dose costing somewhere in the region of 8p. Meanwhile, an untold number of women are put at risk.

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As I understand it, the principal obstacle blocking the prohibition of GBL is its legitimate use, particularly in the manufacturing and chemical industries. I do not seek to deny that GBL has legitimate uses, and I accept that it is widely used as an industrial solvent. What I find difficult to believe, however, is that an industrial solvent being sold in bottles of 250 ml to private citizens in central London, with same-day delivery, is actually being used for legitimate industrial purposes.

What needs to happen, and what my Bill provides for, is an end to the open market for GBL. At the moment anyone can buy it for any purpose, without having to specify that purpose. My Bill would make GBL a controlled substance under the 1971 Act, but that would not mean that it could not be used for legitimate purposes. All that would be required of those who needed GBL for legitimate purposes would be to make an application to the relevant authorities. The provisions for that are contained in the 1971 Act itself. That is precisely how GBL is managed in the United States, which has classified it as a schedule 1 drug without precipitating the collapse of its chemical industry. That GBL has legitimate uses is no excuse for inaction.

Yesterday, I spoke to a young woman, 22 years of age and a victim of these substances. Her drink was spiked and she suffered a 25-minute seizure. It was only thanks to the skill of the doctors and nurses who treated her that she survived at all. Her health is poor and she now needs to use a wheelchair. The consequences for her will last a lifetime.

The case for the prohibition of GBL is clear. It would protect women without putting unnecessary burdens on its legitimate use. I only hope that we address this problem now, before any more victims without redress are created.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Joan Ryan, Bob Spink, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Lee Scott, David Cairns, Mr. John Leech, Mr. Mike Hancock, Siobhain McDonagh, Liz Blackman and Julie Morgan.

Gamma-Butyrolactone (prohibition)

Joan Ryan accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the classification of gamma-butyrolactone as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 156].

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Orders of the Day

Climate Change Bill [ Lords]

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 15

Advice on emissions from international aviation and international shipping

‘(1) It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State on the consequences of treating emissions of targeted greenhouse gases from—

(a) international aviation, and

(b) international shipping,

as emissions from sources in the United Kingdom for the purposes of Part 1.

(2) The duty applies if and to the extent that regulations under section 29 do not provide for such emissions to be so treated.

(3) Advice given by the Committee under this section must also contain the reasons for that advice.

(4) The Committee must give its advice under this section—

(a) when it gives its advice under section 33 for the budgetary period 2023-2027, and

(b) when it gives its advice under that section for each subsequent budgetary period.

(5) The Committee must, at the time it gives its advice under this section to the Secretary of State, send a copy to the other national authorities.

(6) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee must publish that advice in such manner as it considers appropriate.’.— [Joan Ruddock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 14— International aviation and shipping emissions

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report including—

(a) a projection of the level of emissions he expects to arise from international aviation and shipping which are the result of UK economic activity,

(b) an explanation of the methodology used to make this emissions projection, and

(c) the way in which any carbon budgets have been adjusted to take account of such projections.

(2) When making the above projection, the Secretary of State shall have regard to international carbon reporting practice.

(3) The projection shall cover any year for which a carbon budget has been set, and may include any other years that the Secretary of State considers appropriate.’.

Amendment No. 68, in clause 10, page 6, line 26, at end insert—

‘(i) the emission of greenhouse gases from international aviation or international shipping that the Secretary of State expects to arise during the budget period, as reported pursuant to section 15(5A).’.

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Amendment No. 72, page 6, line 26, at end insert—

‘(i) the emissions of greenhouse gases from international aviation or international shipping that the Secretary of State expects to arise during the budget period.’.

Amendment No. 69, in clause 27, page 15, line 24, at end insert—

‘(5A) If emissions of a greenhouse gas from international aviation or international shipping are not required to be included in the statement by virtue of subsection (2), it must state the level of such emissions that the Secretary of State expects he will have to report in accordance with international carbon reporting practice for each budget period for which a budget has been set.’.

Government amendment No. 36.

Amendment No. 3, in clause 29, page 16, line 9, leave out out from ‘Kingdom’ to end of line 13.

Government amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 50.

Joan Ruddock: Before setting out my reasons for tabling the new clause, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), who led on all the earlier stages of the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who led the discussions in Cabinet.

International aviation and shipping have long been contentious issues in relation to climate change and the subject of much Back-Bench interest, as illustrated by the huge support for the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). The Government agree that action to reduce emissions from international aviation and shipping will be vital to global efforts to tackle climate change, which is why we are taking forward a range of measures to reduce the impact of international aviation and shipping on the environment.

Discussions on including international aviation and shipping in a post-2012 regime under the Kyoto principle have begun, and the UK is actively lobbying for support within the international community. Following pressure from the UK, legislation to include aviation in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme has been signed off in Europe, and it is expected to save about 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. We are also working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation on international aviation and climate change to try to reach agreement on targets that will drive increased action on emissions in the aviation sector. We continue to press for an international emissions trading scheme for the maritime sector under the International Maritime Organisation.

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