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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the provisions of this Bill. I accept much of what the noble Baroness has said, and it makes sense. Perhaps I may add that I also endorse much of the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. At some stage, I hope that we will have sufficient time to deal with the issue in much more detail. But I suspect that we are back to the unreal situation.

It is not controversial—it has the support of all parties—but it is important to bear in mind that, despite the fact that we give our broad support, it is
 
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dangerous to cut corners on legislation of this kind. The Bill is before us and it is right that we give our considered views on a matter that has seriously affected the pattern of crime in this country. Various attempts have been made to rationalise our policy on drugs and drug users. On the matter of drugs and the law, opinions are divided, and they will remain divided.

The increasing availability and use of illegal drugs, along with large-scale alcohol abuse, are contributing to crime in our society. Systematic monitoring of our criminal justice system demonstrates example after example of the link between drug abuse and crime to pay for drugs. The public debate on this subject is often emotive. Frequent studies reveal differing and conflicting views. The report I have found most convincing is the report of the independent inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 chaired by Lady Runciman. It is an authoritative report based not on assumptions but on hard facts resulting from discussions held with some of the foremost experts and professionals in the field.

The public are concerned about drug abuse and its consequences. Communities are blighted by drug users and dealers. I shall quote from a letter received this morning by my noble friend Lord Avebury from a resident of Soho:

The frightening aspect of this letter is the extent to which drug users and dealers threaten the residents of an area.

These concerns will not go away. It must be accepted that there is a drug dependency culture and that it cannot be swept under the carpet. It is exploited by drug barons and dealers whose sole aim is to make money, irrespective of the harm caused to other people, particularly young people. In many countries, laundered money is used to buy arms to support wars around the world. It is a fact that large communities are often displaced, which adds to poverty, despair, and then results in refugees seeking asylum elsewhere. The issue of drugs is a serious problem which requires serious consideration. I am glad that the Home Office has at last seen fit to produce this legislation.

During my days as a magistrate in Sussex, I came across many young people who had a detailed knowledge of drugs. The same could not be said for their parents. There is a wide gap between the solutions sought by parents and the knowledge possessed by young people.

This Second Reading gives us an opportunity for an informed debate. In essence, but with some reservations, we support the Bill. If pushed hard, we would welcome a code of practice on extended police
 
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powers so that there is no doubt of the outcome of police action. That is because we have to confront these difficult issues with a view to seeking solutions. The Bill goes some way to providing those answers.

The Drugs Bill is timely. But let me go back to the Government's response to the Runciman report. They missed the opportunity to modernise our drug laws and they ignored the balanced, research-based evidence, thus missing the opportunity to ensure better and more effective use of resources. I have no doubt that public opinion is comfortable with open and honest discussion.

Research carried out across Europe demonstrates that we in the United Kingdom are increasingly out of step with developments in drug law. Often this has caused serious confusion in the minds of the public. The police seem to operate different standards in different parts of London. It is time to ensure absolute clarity on the part of the Metropolitan Police on this subject.

On the one hand we want to adhere to international conventions, but we refuse to follow the example of other countries where there is greater flexibility within the rules. Belgium and Portugal focus on drugs as public health issues with prevention and treatment as key tools, placing less dependence on the criminal law. It is a shame that the Government's long-term strategy for tackling drugs to build a better Britain has had poor results.

Let us look at the targets that have been set up: halving the number of young people using drugs, especially heroin and cocaine; halving the number of reoffending drug misusers to protect our communities from drug-related anti-social and criminal behaviour; doubling drug treatment measures and halving the availability of drugs on our streets, especially heroin and cocaine. But we still trail behind in drug treatment models in our penal institutions.

There has been improvement, which is welcome, but we have a long way to go. A substantial reallocation of resources is needed to provide more treatment facilities. We cannot ignore the fact that the number of offences committed by addicts is reduced by one-fifth when proper treatment is available. We therefore welcome the emphasis on introducing new measures to deal with the problems caused by the misuse of controlled drugs. We also welcome the measures designed to break the link between drug use and crime.

Those who target or peddle drugs to our children must be subject to harsher sentences. However, in the past I increasingly witnessed as a magistrate the harsh sentencing of mules who bring drugs to our shores while the real culprits are hardly ever caught. So I hope that the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which we will be talking about tomorrow, will make good progress in identifying and prosecuting drug barons.

There are matters relating to police powers set out in Part 2. We want to scrutinise these to ensure that they are not simply prescriptive. They must be proportionate and not discriminatory in their use. This is not the time to go into the detail, and I do not intend
 
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to address the Bill clause by clause. However, I want to raise two points clearly identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out, the Joint Committee has rightly questioned the statutory assumption about intent to supply when the possession of controlled drugs rises above a certain quantity in relation to Article 6(2) of the ECHR. The second matter concerns the use of X-ray, ultrasound or intimate searches which may not be compatible with Article 6(1). I want to add to the comments made by the noble Baroness and say that this is an issue where cultural sensitivities are also vital. The Joint Committee offers safeguards to overcome some of these concerns and I hope very much that they will be incorporated either in the Bill or in the Minister's response to the debate.

The points raised by the Joint Committee are endorsed by RELEASE and the Transform Drug Policy Foundation:

I shall be delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, has to say on this matter.

Equally, we would like to see systematic monitoring to ensure that police powers do not have an adversarial effect on dealings with persons from ethnic minority communities.

I am glad that the Minister at the Home Office, Caroline Flint, has gone some way in amending the Bill to ensure that the provisions of Clause 1 apply to any school premises, including any ancillary school building and playing fields. There are, of course, issues that one needs to tease out, but I am broadly satisfied with the amendments proposed.

In conclusion, when we see the Bill again, let us hope that it is a product of adequate consultations with key stakeholders in the drugs field. It is nice to have a slogan, "Tough on drugs", but the effect of any legislative measures must make a real difference where drugs and the stability of our community are concerned.

7.30 p.m.


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