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6.8 p.m.

Lord Moyne: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on this document, and I do not congratulate them lightly. Far more do I congratulate my noble friend Lord Mancroft on his epoch-making speech. It should be studied with the very greatest care by all the authorities concerned.

I shall strike a more sombre note, though in the same direction. It has been pointed out by several noble Lords that the war against drugs looks very like prohibition in the United States. It is a repetition on a world wide scale of that gigantic, failed experiment. The fact is that laws against drugs make them expensive and therefore profitable, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, among others, pointed out. Laws against drugs confine the trade in drugs to those who are willing to break the law and therefore confine that lucrative trade to criminals. That is like adding two and two. I ask noble Lords' forgiveness for speaking in such an elementary fashion. Nevertheless, it is reasoning which seems to be widely ignored.

I make two predictions. Despite the laws, drug-taking has expanded and is expanding explosively. Of my predictions one is certain and the other probable. My certain prediction is that drugs will be legalised in all major countries within 20 years, and in the case of marijuana, within 10 years. My probable prediction is that within 40 years the President of the United States will be the grandson of a drug baron, as President Kennedy was the grandson of a bootlegger.

The most depressing aspect of the Green Paper, much of which is so good, is the way in which it excludes all serious discussion as to whether it is right that drugs should remain illegal. Before turning to that matter I want to make clear that I am not advocating legalisation at this moment. One--though one only--of the arguments against it in Annex D is absolutely decisive: that is, that drugs are not a British problem alone but an international one. Unilateral legalisation would attract addicts and traffickers to this country as a pot of jam attracts wasps. The Dutch experience has not been good. Legalisation, when it comes--not "if" it comes--will be by international agreement and will take many years to achieve. However, it is up to us in this country to start discussions on those lines.

Much of the rest of Annex D, as was pointed out, can only be described as boneheaded. Paragraph D3 has already been mocked a little; it suggests an analogy between decriminalising drugs and allowing armed robbery. That analogy is not only false, but it is also callow. It would be scouted in any fifth-form debating society. I am sorry for the authors of the document if they cannot see the difference between robbing a man

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of something he dearly wishes to retain and providing someone with a commodity he desperately wants to have.

Similarly, in paragraph D5 the document admits that cheaper drugs may mean that users would commit less crime to feed their habit. But then adds that,

    "the benefit in terms of reduced crime would be heavily outweighed by the human costs of widely increased drug dependence".

Would it indeed? That can be contested on both moral and practical grounds. The moral point is that the person mugged by a desperate addict is an involuntary victim; the taker of a drug has chosen to take it. The practical points are perhaps more important. There are many grounds for thinking that drugs would do far less harm if they were legal, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out some of them. But let us look at them.

Heroin is mainly injected because, and only because, it is expensive. Legalisation would therefore cut, and possibly even eliminate, the problem of infected needles, severing the link between drugs misuse and AIDS. Again, if drugs were legal people would seek necessary help far earlier and far more openly. Again, there is at present a class of drug abuser whose experience more or less foreshadows what will be the case after legalisation; namely, the children of the rich. I am sorry to go into the class matter but it is important. Admittedly this point is anecdotal. A friend of mine in his 40s told me that 20 or so of his acquaintances, when they were young, took hard drugs. Only two of them suffered permanently after 20 years; the rest are all right. It is not drugs alone, but drugs plus deprivation that is the problem.

Again, legal drugs would be subject to quality control, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out, but one cannot tell the truth too often. People would know what they were taking and they would not be killed by drugs of an unaccustomed strength or adulterated with poisons. Finally, resources not spent on enforcement would be available to finance care and treatment of those who required it. That could treble, without any extra cost to the Exchequer, the amount devoted to care of users.

Very little has been said--unexpectedly little--about the difference between different drugs. As I said, marijuana is probably the one that will be legalised first because it is the one that is most widely used and, on the whole, experience shows to be the least harmful. The Green Paper makes no distinction at all between soft and hard drugs. In that, it is not only out of touch with the facts but out of touch with the thinking in most other countries. It emerged in a recent French television programme that over 50 per cent. of the French population had tried marijuana. That is backed by the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in relation to parts of this country. The studio audience in that programme, according to my informant, exploded with laughter when some of the more lurid allegations against marijuana were mentioned.

That brings me to the important matter of educating young people on the facts about drugs. In that regard an enormous amount of care must be exercised. And in this at least the Green Paper is sensible and honest. On page 17 it admits that,

    "Many drug misusers do not suffer serious illness".

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Most official propaganda up to this date has not admitted that; but it is a fact and it is good that all facts should come out. If then, as it says on page 27, pupils continue to be taught about the harmful effects of drugs, it is important not to do that in such a way as to contradict the personal experience of those who know drug users who happen to be healthy, otherwise the campaign is totally discredited. A recent report tells of an Arsenal football star--and in order to be a football star he must be a considerable athlete--who is a cocaine addict. Drug education must cope with cases like that. As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS puts it,

    "This is an area where teachers are likely to know less than their pupils"--

and they can say that again!

The Green Paper contains a number of accounts of local successes in the war against drugs, and in the context, and temporarily, they are extremely heartening. The cleaning up of the King's Cross area is perhaps the best example. However, those examples remind me of nothing so much as the real and substantial successes of the former South African Government against the African National Congress. King Canute's courtiers, too, could probably point to areas on the seashore where rocks had temporarily dammed the incoming tide. The drugs war is similarly unwinnable. Let us hope that that is recognised internationally before too many lives are damaged, too much treasure is expended and too many objectionable fortunes are made in this counter-productive effort.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Russell of Liverpool: My Lords, I must declare three interests. First, I am a joint secretary of the All-Party Group on Drugs Misuse, though I do not speak in that formal capacity this evening. Any views I give are my own but they stem directly from the somewhat mixed experience of sitting in on that group's deliberations for the past eight or nine years, most of which was profoundly depressing.

Secondly, I am the chairman of a drug education charity called Life Education Centres. We teach about 250,000 children in primary schools in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, mentioned, the Department for Education was unwise enough to invite me to chair the series of four conferences to be held around England in the New Year to discuss how to get drug education kick-started properly in schools where it is not already present. The noble Baroness inadvertently promoted me to the rank of an Earl, which was extremely kind of her. But, as I explained to an American colleague a couple of weeks ago in New York, I am a Baron and firmly at the bottom of the pile where I belong.

I should like to speak this evening primarily about the Green Paper. That does not in any way denigrate the fact that it is World AIDS Day today, but in the interests of economy, focus and timing, I shall have to leave that aside. The educational element in trying to do something about continuing the success we have had so far in this country is extremely important, particularly in light of

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the rather distressing fact that the largest increase in HIV prevalence in this country is in the heterosexual population.

It is an unaccustomed experience for me, as a Cross-Bencher, with my voting record during the years of the current Conservative Administration, to stand here and be able to praise something that the Government have done, but on the whole I think that the Green Paper is remarkably good. In many ways, as other speakers have said, it is a landmark inasmuch as a great many different areas of government have got together and gone through the not inconsiderable discipline of trying to agree with one another on something. It demonstrates the value of focus and of applied and, above all, co-ordinated data collection, and in particular the application of a considerable degree of Civil Service intellect to what is a pretty intractable problem.

I would particularly like to thank by name a lady called Sue Street, who is at the head of the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit. She and her extremely capable small team have achieved more in the past nine months than governments of any political persuasion in this country for the past 30 years in terms of really getting their minds around the myriad aspects of the drug problem. We owe Sue Street and her team a considerable debt.

Secondly, it would be churlish of me to deny that both the Lord President of the Council and the Prime Minister have been a considerable force behind giving Sue Street and her team the authority to go and kick behind with the right degree of force and application.

There are three themes about which I particularly want to speak. The first is the overwhelming need for top-level co-ordination if we are to continue to make any headway in dealing with this problem. Secondly, we must be realistic in understanding the timescale of what it is we are embarking upon. Thirdly, and more specifically, there is a vital need for some very dedicated and applied training in certain areas.

Co-ordination is something we have been spectacularly bad at in the past. The level of miscomprehension and incomprehension between the different departments of state has been a joy to behold at times, but on most occasions it has been rather depressing and distressing. The ministerial sub-committee on the misuse of drugs, set up some seven or eight years ago, has made some progress but, by and large, has been fairly spectacularly unsuccessful. What it needs, and what I am glad to say it has had more recently, is, first, a fairly big-hitting chairman who carries some weight at the Cabinet table and, secondly, and critically--I come back to my praise of Sue Street and her team--some high quality, co-ordinated information from across all of the departments concerned, including a look at what is happening internationally, to help the sub-committee take some of the strategic and funding decisions which need to be taken. It would be tragic if we were to lose the considerable reservoir of knowledge built up in this rather short, eight-month period in the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit. I urge the Government to think carefully about how that can be conserved and added to.

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I know that no decision has been taken on what the future of the unit should be, but there is a very strong case for saying that the ministerial sub-committee should have a small, dedicated, highly specialised team which looks right the way across the problem to advise it. Otherwise, we shall start falling into our previous errors, which would be a great pity.

There are all kinds of sensitive issues that still have to be dealt with at the ministerial sub-committee level: sensitive questions such as what should be the role of health education authorities; what is the exact role of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; what should be the role and funding of SCODA. Those are all quite major strategic issues which are broader than the remit of any particular department. We need a cross-curricular approach to decide how best to deal with these issues.

What Sue Street and her team have shown is, first, how much we know but, secondly, and obversely, how very little we know. One has seen that demonstrated in the range of views that we have heard today. This debate thrives on a certain amount of fact and, by and large, on a rather overwhelming residue of ignorance. It is possible for people to propound all kinds of interesting ideas. Most of us have to listen with a degree of politeness, because quite frankly we do not have enough information to know whether to laugh or to cry. All I would say is that if noble Lords wish to find out more about one or two of the remedies proposed this evening--I think in particular of the second remedy proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNair--if they care to apply to the ISDD library to see what information it has, they will find that yes, indeed, Narconon was set up by the late Ron Hubbard. But it also demonstrates and points out the fact that Ron Hubbard was the founder of what is known as the Church of Scientology.

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