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I do not have exact details on cannabis farming, but I understand that more than 2,000 cannabis farms have been raided and shut down, and people have been charged. I am sure that noble Lords have read in the newspapers about ordinary houses that were found to have been stripped out entirely, with rows and rows of cannabis plants growingnot that I know that much about cannabis, I hasten to add. Little did I know some four years ago, when I was in command of a naval battle group, that I would be talking about cannabis on the Floor of the House.
Growing cannabis demands heat and a lot of power. We found that the places that we raided had high electricity readings if the power had been taken off the grid properly and charged for. The Home Secretary has decided that we need to look at whether there are extremely high power demands in any region and that might be act as a focus for us to find more farms. I understand that that is being done. Equally, a lot of these people had bypassed the normal power supply lines and were taking power directly from the grid, so that there was no way of monitoring that power through their bills. We are asking energy companies to see if there is a way of identifying where power is being drawn off, because that could help us. I hope that that answers my noble friends question.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept from me that there is no place here for triumphalism about U-turns? The Government were on the wrong course and, as he as a mariner would know, if you are on the wrong course it is best to turn around and go back. I congratulate the Government on that.
Secondly, I hope that, through the appropriate channels, the attention of the judiciary will be drawn to the fact that this new policy is widely endorsed on both sides of the House by both of the parties that matter. Therefore, perhaps the judiciary might take note of that.
Thirdly, does the Minister not agree that, while the Government are right to listen to adviceand we are all right to do thatthey are responsible for initiating policy and Parliament has the responsibility for endorsing or repudiating that policy? It is not the business of advisers to take decisions. They should be thanked for their advice and reminded of that.
Finally, will the Minister ask his colleagues in the Home Office to look at the article in the Los Angeles Times on 30 March by the American commentator James Q. Wilson? He drew attention to what appears to be a highly successful drug rehabilitation programme, slightly unorthodox by our standards, which for some time now has been carried out in Hawaii. It might have some good lessons for us.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for his useful points. He is right that we need to point out to the judiciary that the key parties feel very strongly about this issue. I will make sure that that happens through the proper channels.
In terms of listening to advice, the noble Lord is again absolutely right. Advisory groups and advisory panels are there to give advice and they are very useful at times. Indeed, a lot of their advice is superb. On this occasion, all of the advice has been accepted, except on one thing. But such groups are advisory and in the final analysis have no responsibility for anything. The Government then correctly have to take the initiative and it is for Parliament then to decide. That is the way that things should be done; and that is what I hope will happen in this case, because Parliament will finally be asked to agree to the recategorisation.
I have not seen the Los Angeles Times article. We will certainly look at that, because we do not have answers to all these issues. We have a long way to go in many areas and should use anything that is useful and is seen to be useful. I am particularly willing to go to Hawaii to check out the rehabilitation programme.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, while of course the Government are lawfully entitled not to accept the main recommendation of the advisory committee, nevertheless there is a high moral obligation on them to justify taking a different course? Will he give urgent thought to the two sides of this question? On the one hand, of course, cannabis has immense dangers for those using it and has a close link with very serious crime. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of young people who otherwise have entirely decent habits and attitudes go through a phase in life where it seems almost to be a part of growing up to have a few puffs, as the Minister has said. It would be a grave tragedy if hundreds of thousands of young people were brought into the criminal system in that way.
Will the noble Lord give urgent thought to examining what happened some 40 years ago when the Wootton report was considered in both Houses? I declare an interest as a Minister in the Home Office in those days. It was decided not to decriminalise cannabis but to make it absolutely clear that young persons would not be sent to prison for simple possession unless they showed complete and open defiance of authority. It might be difficult now, with legislation, to go along that path of 40 years ago, but will the Minister consider the two dangers and the fact that somehow or other the Government have to avoid both if possible?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. This has to be done with discretion and with a certain amount of sense, and we need to avoid any ratcheting-up of the situation. There is no intention whatever that the rather foolish young person aged 18 who is caught having one puff on a joint will be given five years in prison. However, there are some people whom I jolly well would like to put away when they are in possession of a lot of this stuff, even though they are not meant to be supplying it. When they have been caught and warned, and that has happened again and again, I have no doubt that it is absolutely right that the full weight of the law should be brought against them.
We talk about people having one little puff but I am afraid that that is now far more dangerous with skunk. The drug is not what it used to be, and that is one of the problems. People sometimes talk about it being no worse than alcohol but we have to put it in context. Over the past month, something like one and a half million people will probably have had a puff of a joint and something like 42 million people will have had a drink. One has to bear that in mind and get these things into perspective. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right: this is something that we have to think about. However, there is a balance to be struck and discretion has to be applied. The police have made it very clear that they will do that but they have to be told that this is a serious matter. We certainly take it very seriously.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, after we have seen what happens in practice after perhaps two years, will the Government agree to issue a report on how the reclassification is working and consider the alternative? In other words, I am asking for a very full report on the whole issue.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not quite clear what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is asking. As I understand it, he is asking for this matter to be reviewed in about two years time. Rather than formalise that, I can say that we will keep looking at this issue, as we have been doing. That is why we have now decided that we should recategorise cannabis. I do not think that I could commit the Government to a formal report but we will constantly monitor the situation and see where we are going. As I said, I believe that the criminalising aspect is important to show how serious the matter is and that we take it
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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, the Minister will not be aware of this but when the announcement by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, was made, I said how unwise it would be to downgrade strong cannabis. It is all written down in Hansard. Perhaps this Statement will encourage more research into cannabis and the triggering of schizophrenia. This is a serious matter and I hope that the Minister will set that research in motion.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important point. The situation is very difficult at the moment because the scientific evidence is not at all clear. As I said, my right honourable friend in the other place is absolutely right not to take a risk with our young people but, equally, there is a difficult balance to be struck. The scientific evidence is not at all clear and we do not know some of the details. It is therefore essential that more research is done. I am afraid that I do not know exactly what has to be put in hand for that to happen but I believe it is essential that it does happen.
Perhaps I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing. I think that we need to do more research to ensure that we know all the answers. I fear that some of them will take some time because the impact of things such as smoking skunk takes a rather long time to come out. With the more mild variants, the question that always used to be asked was: how do you know whether someone is taking too many drugs? The answer was: if you had a wheelbarrow-load of money at the top of a hill and an armchair half way up, the chap who was smoking cannabis would sit in the armchair and think about it, whereas other people would go and get the money. Skunk is very different; it has a huge impact on people. It is not just the benign substance that people thought cannabis was years ago. It is very harmful and, as I said, it destroys families and lives. It has a huge impact on our quality of life.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, in 2004 I spoke passionately about the downgrading of cannabis, and the very reasons that I gave are in the report today. Mothers, teachers and other people who have control of young people will be delighted that the Government have reconsidered this matter. It is suggested that there has been a decrease in the taking of cannabis, but we have not been vigilant and we do not know the figures. There are mothers in this country today who spent pounds and pounds on their childrens education. Those children come out of college addicted to this drug. Will the Minister congratulate the Home Secretary on taking this bold step? We cannot afford to be liberal. The killing of young black men by other young black men has its roots in the drug trade.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Howells for her interjection: she has expressed matters much more eloquently than I
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the Report stage of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill be postponed until after the Question for Short Debate.
Lord Lloyd-Webber asked Her Majestys Government what action they will take to mitigate the constraints placed upon owners of listed places of entertainment seeking to provide modern facilities for customers and to satisfy contemporary artistic demands.
In drawing attention to the problems facing the owners of places of entertainment, I totally admit that I do not know the answers to the questions that I am about to raise. My hope today is to draw attention to our ageing commercial theatre stock and, by doing so, to stimulate a serious discussion about the way forward for this countrys mainly Victorian and Edwardian commercial theatres. I must declare my other interest: I am passionate about architecture and I think that my love of Victorian art is quite well known. Therefore, some of the things that I am about to say sit extremely uneasily with me, especially as, when I was a boy, I was one of those who lay down in the street demonstrating against the shameful demolition of the St Jamess Theatre. However, I must say these things.
He goes on a little mischievously to compare theatres and concert halls to churches, but concludes that, while churches are built to last, places of entertainment are not. Sir Johns point is that taste, fashion and style of production change and that buildings constructed
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Sir John is right that the architecture of entertainment is impermanent, but he could not have seen other developments that call into question the suitability of some of our older buildings for present-day theatrical useor indeed any use. When the stock of theatre buildings was constructed times were very different from ours in a whole series of ways. People were physically smaller; there was less demand for bars and lavatories; it was assumed that the wealthy expected to be segregated from the hoi polloi in terms of auditorium ingress and egress; no one gave any thought to access for disabled people; and, for a significant number of patrons, being seen was far more important than being able to see what was on stage. We need only think about most 19th century opera houses. Backstage, dressing rooms for non-star names were cramped, poorly located and without showers. Technical capacities were severely limited by current standards in terms of lighting, sound and stage machinery. The modern audience, performer and artistic teams today all expect modern facilities. Decent sight lines are paramount todaynobody wants to sit behind a pillar all evening.
Ownership of a listed building imposes on the owner a kind of involuntary trusteeship of what is deemed to be part of our national heritage, but buildings that are in living contemporary use surely cannot be treated as if they are museum assets. English Heritage is reasonably flexible in its demands when listed buildings are refurbished, but the demands are there and meeting them can be very costly indeed. A substantial part of the cost of the recent refurbishment of buildings such as the Royal Festival Hall, the Coliseum and the Royal Opera House was the cost of maintaining the heritage aspects of the buildings. We are talking about many, many millions of pounds, not the odd hundred thousand. For example, to install the air conditioning that is badly needed in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane would cost in the region of £15 million. Were it not to be a grade 1 listed building, the figure would be about £1 million to £2 million. The reason is that the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has no cavities in its walls in which air conditioning can be installed. The listing requirement means that every internal wall of the building would have to be taken down, a cavity for air conditioning created, and the wall rebuilt exactly as it was originally constructed.
The difficulty for commercial theatre owners is that this expenditure yields no economic benefit in terms of the operational viability of their buildings. Not one more seat becomes available for sale as a result. Indeed, improving the audience experience while retaining the architectural qualities of the building normally means losing seats, which commercial theatres can ill afford to do.
May I introduce to the debate by way of example one London theatre I intimately know and love, if
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The noblest surviving building in my opinion more impressive within and without than Covent Gardenis the Royal English Opera House ... This is on an irregularly shaped island site. Its main façade on Cambridge Circus is concave and the awkwardness of the corners of such a façade is overcome by graceful octagonal turrets ... The three tiers of galleries are cantilevered outa revolution at the timeso that no columns obstruct the view of the audience. The decoration throughout is scholarly Flemish Renaissance. Nothing is skimped and the entrance hall and staircases are rich in those contrasting marbles Collcutt
The theatre was constructed by Richard DOyley Carte as an opera house partly to thank his composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. It opened with Sullivans serious opera, Ivanhoe, which failed almost immediately. After a couple of short seasons, the whole project went belly-up and the Royal English Opera House became the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The Palaces future is, I hope, completely secure as long as I am around but it is a good example of a building whose long-term situation I seriously worry about. For instance, the terracotta, which was totally restored only 20 years ago, now needs to be completely renovated again at a cost which will wipe out any profit that the theatre has made over the past few years.
The Palace has only 1,416 seats. If all those seats were great, it would be a wonderful medium-scale musical or opera house, but they are not. Three hundred and seventeen of them are in one of the most vertiginous balconies in theatreland today and very hard to see from or to sell. They are cramped and impossible to reseat due to the rake. Thirty-eight seats are in boxes which are great if you want to be looked at rather than watch the show, and 274 seats are considered to be restricted view.
Thus this wonderfully sited musical house has in practice only the number of seats of a large playhouse. Combined with the capital costs of, say, £3 million to £4 million for a production of a scale to fill the building, the running costs of such a production, let alone the cost of maintaining the building, will become extremely unviable as a theatre without public or private subsidy. The Palace is just a tip of the iceberg. Maybe it is an extreme example, but the fundamental problem of the theatres difficulty in keeping its head above water in todays market is replicated on a differing scale all around the country.
Some will say, What about the Royal Court? Is that not an example of what can be done with an old
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What the theatre needs today is the equivalent of a large warehouse attached to wonderful front of house and backstage facilities preferably in a location with great access by public transport. In that warehouse what you need are basic theatrical facilities like the ability to fly scenery but most of all you need comfortable, flexible seating so that a production can play in the round, in a proscenium shape or whatever a writer, director or artists require.
I urge noble Lords to understand that I am not proposing the wholesale demolition of Londons West End, nor am I suggesting that the taxpayer is suddenly faced with a huge bill to refurbish our ageing commercial theatre stock. But as someone who has spent more than 40 years professionally involved with musical theatre, I felt that it was time to put my love of theatre architecture to one side and at least draw the attention of Her Majestys Government to some of the issues that confront theatre owners and artists as we head for the second decade of the 21st century.
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