Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Selsdon: I support the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for reasons that he may find hard to determine. I stand here to make a plea on behalf of the mushroom hunter. I have already disclosed my interest as a peasant farmer in France and a wine grower.

I want to refer to the rather improper remarks made by my noble friend Lord Mancroft on the subject of wine. I carry large quantities of wine in cars and trucks, and I sell it. Of course, when wine is in the grape, with maybe 14 degrees alcohol, it is not treated as alcohol or wine and regarded as dangerous. Wine and mushrooms go well together. Noble Lords will know that you may not shoot a wild boar during the hunting season when the grapes have not been picked. There is a relationship in the land that I have between the wild boar and the mushroom hunter. The hunters who hunt the wild boar hunt with guns. The hunters who hunt the mushroom remember the old adage that there are bold mushroom hunters, old mushroom hunters but no old, bold mushroom hunters. The mushroom is a very dangerous creature. There are over 2,000 of them. Will the Minister kindly let me know how many of them contain psilocin?

The Destroying Angel is a mushroom that bothers me. It is far more dangerous than the magic mushroom. I understand that in the United Kingdom there are about five different types of magic mushroom. They are only treated as class A drugs once they have been processed. There are problems with the difference between Jack o' lantern and Slippery Jack: I have forgotten which of those is deadly poisonous and which is not. We all may know of cepe, morel and chanterelle mushrooms and that their value is considerable. There has been a tremendous growth in mushroom hunting throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom, with groups from Switzerland, Austria and France coming over into certain parts of the world. It is a secretive business because the value of cepe mushrooms or others is very high.

I have a fear that if the Bill goes through, as is, genuine mushroom hunters may well pick up a mushroom or a fungus that is full of psilocin and thus commit a criminal offence. That matter is solved in many countries. Mushrooms are so deadly and dangerous that unless you are a competent person you cannot tell the difference. So normally you would pick them using surgical gloves. Poisonous mushrooms must never touch non-poisonous mushrooms, otherwise they will pollute them. You would take the mushrooms to the local pharmacist who will say "Yes, no, yes, no" and tell you how to cook them. In the United Kingdom, we do not have that knowledge. Is the Minister concerned in any way that the provision
 
6 Apr 2005 : Column 817
 
may offend against the European Convention on Human Rights? Is she concerned about protecting mushroom pickers? Does she or her department know anything at all about mushrooms?

Lord Mancroft: I will add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, if it survives much longer, which it sounds as though it is not going to. I do not want to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, has said. He has listed most of the points, but I shall make three very short points.

First, my understanding is that—the noble Baroness may be able to help us on this—a ban on magic mushrooms in this country may not be legal under European law. I gather that there is an appeal to the European Court on the subject because the things are sold completely legally throughout Europe. It would presumably be some sort of interference with trade, bearing it in mind that they are legally sold in hundreds of shops around the country at the moment.

Secondly, has the plan to make magic mushrooms into a class A drug been referred to the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs? Thirdly, the legislation is simply disproportionate. Magic mushrooms really do not cause any harm at all, they cannot be addictive and have never caused a public order issue. The idea that they should be put into the same category as heroin and cocaine is so ludicrous that it makes the provision a laughing stock. The legislation will have no effect on the use or misuse of magic mushrooms. Most people will not take any notice of it, understand it or, probably, even know of it. The only effect that it might have is a minor, inadvertent and rather undesirable effect on the poor people who inadvertently grow them or have them on their land and those who sell them not realising that they are illegal.

The provision is disproportionate and has no place in the Bill. It would be much better to remove the clause. So I support the noble Lord's argument.

Lord Rea: My noble friend said at Second Reading that magic mushrooms could have damaging, hallucinatory effects equivalent to those of LSD. That is certainly not my clinical experience. LSD can cause alarming hallucinations that may have lasting effects. But I have never met anyone who has come to any harm from the use of magic mushrooms. The house in which I used to live when my boys were growing up backed on to Hampstead Heath. They frequently went on magic mushroom foraging expeditions with their friends. Neither they nor their friends had anything other than pleasurable experiences as a result.

I shall cite an e-mail that I received from a probation officer recently. Other noble Lords may have had the same message. It states:

Indeed, following up what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said, how can you ban something that grows naturally on UK soil?
 
6 Apr 2005 : Column 818
 

My noble friend also said in her speech that clarifying the status of fresh magic mushrooms as a controlled drug will, "we hope"—she said—decrease the trade. I suggest that that is unlikely to occur. In fact, the trade will go underground into criminal hands; the strength will probably be increased and unknown. As both the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold, said, it will occupy police time unnecessarily, as is the case with other controlled drugs. As other noble Lords have said, it would do no harm just to drop the clause, if the Government must have the Bill.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear the words, "Drop it", coming from some parts of the Chamber. I am unable to drop the clause for the following reasons. Perhaps I may clarify something that I said on Second Reading. The clause will clarify and extend the law on magic mushrooms and remove any doubt that the importation, exportation, production, possession or possession with intent to supply and the supply of fresh mushrooms, as well as prepared ones, is an offence.

On Second Reading on 4 April, I responded to contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold, about clarification of the law on magic mushrooms. Having reviewed Hansard, I should like to clarify my comments. At the time, I wanted to make clear that Clause 21 will not change the classification of magic mushrooms. By virtue of the nods that I received when speaking, I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, understood that. Magic mushrooms that are prepared or are in the form of a product are already class A drugs, as are the active ingredients, psilocin and psilocybin. Clause 21 will simply ensure that fresh magic mushrooms, which may not necessarily be a product or be prepared, are also class A drugs. That will ensure legal clarity and consistency.

It may not be apparent to all noble Lords that in the past two years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of outlets selling imported fresh magic mushrooms and there is growing concern about the impact that they have on public health. The Government estimate that more than 400 establishments in the United Kingdom are selling those drugs and are mostly supplied with imported magic mushrooms—predominantly from Holland. Customs and Excise estimates the import for 2004 to be between 8,000 and 16,000 kilogrammes.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is undesirable that those drugs be on open sale in the high street. Contributions in this House and another place indicate that there seems to be something of a misconception about the harms and potency of magic mushrooms. Let us be in no doubt that they are highly hallucinogenic and equivalent in effect to LSD. I hear what my noble friend Lord Rea says, but, from the information available to the Government, magic mushrooms appear to be particularly harmful to those with a mental illness or an underlying mental health problem and can precipitate psychosis. They can be very harmful to those with a heart condition and users are also vulnerable to self-harm while under the influence of mushrooms. As with LSD, those misusing
 
6 Apr 2005 : Column 819
 
mushrooms may experience negative flashbacks. We have therefore decided to take steps to remove any doubt over the legality of their importation and commercial sale.

At present, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the chemicals inside magic mushrooms—psilocin and psilocybin—constitute class A drugs. Magic mushrooms themselves constitute a class A drug if they have been prepared or are in the form of a product. As such, importation, exportation, production, possession, possession with intent to supply, or supply of those mushrooms is an offence. It is for the courts to determine, on a case-by-case basis, what constitutes a preparation or a product. A number of those involved in the commercial sale of magic mushrooms argue that picked fresh magic mushrooms for, or on, sale do not constitute a preparation or a product. We disagree.

In December 2004, one judge recommended that Parliament consider new legislation to clarify the legal position. The law change proposed in the Drugs Bill would do that, putting an end to uncertainty by making it clear that all magic mushrooms are class A drugs whatever form they are in.

The taking of magic mushrooms is much more prevalent than some may be aware. The British Crime Survey for 2002-03 showed 180,000 16 to 59 year-olds using magic mushrooms in that year. All indications are that the numbers for 2003 and 2004 will show a dramatic increase in that number, underlining why it is important for Her Majesty's Government to take this measure.

These measures are aimed at addressing the relatively new phenomenon of imported hallucinogenic mushrooms. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said at Second Reading, varieties known as liberty cap mushrooms are indigenous to the United Kingdom. Her Majesty's Government have already considered how to consider those mushrooms in the context of this amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

On 3 February, during Committee stage of the Drugs Bill in another place, the Drugs Minister, my honourable friend Caroline Flint, undertook for Her Majesty's Government to draw up regulations dealing with certain exemptions from the offence of personal possession and agreed not to bring the relevant provision into force until the regulations were also in force.

The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971 places psilocin in Schedule 1, the highest level of control. So there is international consensus that those substances present certain serious harm. I understand the concern that noble Lords may have about picking magic mushrooms. I emphasise that the purpose of this offence is to cease the sale and importation of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, asked how much this Government know about mushrooms. A great deal, it would appear. How much does this Minister know? My Lords, she is learning all the time.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page