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5 Nov 2009 : Column 376

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the time has come for a ministerial rescue on compassionate grounds. Let us forget our party politics for a moment. All that the House is asking for is an assurance that, with thousands of careers on the line, there is real urgency and that a report which will correct the situation is coming forward as soon as possible. That is all we need.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I have given that assurance, but I cannot let it go when the noble Lord says that thousands of careers are on the line. They are not. Disabled students are able to start their courses. We have processed more loans than ever before. However, I give the noble Lord an assurance that we treat this seriously and that there will be timely investigation.

Lord Addington:My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong about that. Students are starting their courses, which are dependent upon this assistance that they are not receiving. Will the noble Lord kindly tell us correctly, ignoring the report, what will be done about this and when the Government will correct it for this year?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I have no information that disabled students are not able to start their courses. However, if the noble Lord gives me any information, I will ensure that we deal with the situation.

Drugs: Cannabis


11.28 am

Asked By Lord Cobbold

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government have made no formal assessment of the effect that reclassification of cannabis to a class B drug in January 2009 would have had on the prices charged by drug dealers.

Lord Cobbold: I thank the noble Lord for that rather predictable response. Would he agree that it is a disgrace that the drugs trade, which is now said to be the second largest global market, after oil, is totally in the hands of criminals? Should not the United Nations and national Governments be looking for new policies such as, for example, those that have been successfully trialled in Portugal?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has for some time held the view that we should legalise controlled drugs. I understand the complex arguments for their being looked after in a regulated manner, but I am afraid that I believe, and the Government have concluded, that the disadvantages would far outweigh the benefits.

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At a time when we are trying to reduce the use of tobacco and the misuse of alcohol due to concerns over their safety, it would be absolutely perverse to take a huge gamble on public health in legalising currently illegal drugs. These things have a real impact on the streets. People talk about them in a remote, airy-fairy way, but the reality on the streets in some areas of our country is really quite horrendous. What we are doing is absolutely right.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former head of a drugs squad. Does my noble friend agree that the increasing strength of cannabis, particularly skunk, creates a very real danger to young people and makes it far more dangerous? Does he also agree that it is more carcinogenic than tobacco? Could my noble friend explain to the House what steps the Government are taking to prevent people driving under the influence of cannabis, which is increasing daily? Is a roadside detection device, rather like a breathalyser, being developed?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. I agree with him: skunk is far more dangerous. I know this from the experience of my youngsters and their friends. One of my sons has two friends who have been severely affected by the use of this really strong drug. It is nonsense to say that it does not have appalling effects. Also, in referring to alcohol, all the chaps and women who take cannabis seem also to drink and smoke ordinary cigarettes, so there is another issue there. We need to be very careful. As regards driving, there is no doubt that these drugs have an impact on people. We are looking hard at ways to identify this clearly. Skunk has a huge impact on people's ability to drive, particularly if they have had even one drink as well, making them a danger with a lethal weapon on our streets.

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we on these Benches agree about the dangers of skunk. Following up on that, what proportion of the domestic drugs market is now made up of high-potency skunk, given that it is a serious danger? How widespread is the domestic cultivation of this strain, compared with the amount that is imported? It is important to know how this market is evolving.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, may I get back to the noble Baroness with the exact figures? I know I have them somewhere, but I cannot get to them in time. Domestic cultivation accounts for a growing proportion of the market. One of our real concerns, and one of the reasons for the reclassification, is that we want to home in on cultivation. Very often we find foreign criminal gangs growing huge amounts of this very strong skunk-not the ordinary cannabis that people remember from years ago. It is a real issue; we want to be able to get the people who are doing this and putting skunk on to the market.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, would the Minister agree that reclassification does not have much impact on the streets, as he puts it, or

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indeed on the international drug traffickers? Would he comment on the record of the Navy in seizing illegal drugs? In 2006, I think it seized some £600 million-worth; in the following two years, the figure was £200 million. However, the figure that I have for this year is only £7 million. Can the Minister account for the drop-off in naval seizures? Is the Navy now not being resourced enough to do this?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows how to hit my heart with this issue. The Navy has had huge success in this field. Just under £4 billion-worth at street value, primarily of cocaine, has been captured since the turn of the millennium. In September, the "Iron Duke" caught the biggest haul ever, worth £240 million at street value. This is having a slight-but only slight-impact. These people make such profits that they can afford to lose two-thirds of all the drugs they are transporting before it hits them. However, it is beginning to have an impact; that haul and the flights are affecting the flow of drugs through west Africa, which we were very worried about. It is really good stuff. I am always delighted to speak about the Navy. Sixty-nine years ago today, Captain Fegen got a VC for steaming towards two German battle cruisers in a little merchant ship. The Navy still shows the same spirit towards drugs.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some years ago, your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology conducted a major inquiry into the medical uses of cannabis? It came to the conclusion that there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that cannabis might, on occasions, have beneficial effects on the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but it condemned the smoking of cannabis because the evidence was clear that smoking cannabis leaf was much more dangerous than smoking tobacco. Since that time, a standardised preparation of cannabis leaf for absorption through the oral mucous membrane has been developed. Controlled trials have shown significant benefit in some patients with multiple sclerosis. Can the noble Lord give an assurance that the reclassification of cannabis will not have an adverse effect on the availability of that preparation if and when it is licensed by the MHRA?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am somewhat thrown back on being a simple sailor as regards the detail of that. However, I will certainly look at this. It seems to me a very important issue and I am sure that we would not allow that to happen, but I shall get back in writing.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, everyone accepts that drugs are dangerous, but in view of the increasing acceptance across the globe that criminal penalties for the possession of drugs for personal use have been a failure, and the increasing move across the globe to civil penalties or indeed the medicalisation of drugs, does the Minister agree that the Government should now undertake an impact assessment of our outdated drugs legislation, at least in an attempt to restore their reputation in the scientific community?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I stated before, there are a number of issues involved in all this. I understand all the arguments about the possible legalisation of certain aspects and dealing with drugs in different ways, and that groups of people do a lot of good work in countering drug use. These things are all extremely important, but I believe that we needed to send a very strong message to our youngsters and our population that these things are really dangerous. Walking back from it and saying they are not sends a message that they are all right really, but they are not. We have to be very careful about that. We need also to focus on the people who are growing skunk on an ever bigger scale and give the police an opportunity to get them. We should bear in mind that, although cannabis is a class B drug, the police can first give a warning. It is up to them whether they give two warnings and then move on to a PND. We are trying to do this to an extent.

Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009

Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009

Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Public Authorities) Regulations 2009

Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Public Authorities) Regulations 2009

Legislative and Regulatory Reform (Regulatory Functions) (Amendment) Order 2009

Legislative and Regulatory Reform (Regulatory Functions) (Amendment) Order 2009

Motions to Approve

11.37 am

Moved By Lord Young of Norwood Green

Motions agreed.

Saving Gateway Accounts Regulations 2009

Saving Gateway Accounts Regulations 2009
22 Report Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Financial Restrictions (Iran) Order 2009

Financial Restrictions (Iran) Order 2009
22 Report Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motions to Approve

11.37 am

Moved By Lord Myners

Motions agreed.

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Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Third Reading

11.37 am


Moved by Lord Whitty

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House, Members of another place and those outside who have supported this Bill. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Bill passed.

Coroners and Justice Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory notes
13th Report Delegated Powers Committee

Third Reading

11.38 am

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Coroners and Justice Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Before the House begins Third Reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill, it may also be helpful for me to say a few words about Third Reading amendments. The House has agreed a procedure for addressing amendments which, in the view of the Public Bill Office, fall outside the guidance in the Companion and the rules set out by the Procedure Committee. In line with that procedure, the Public Bill Office yesterday advised the usual channels that three amendments on the Marshalled List for Third Reading today fall outside that guidance. These are Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and Amendments 27 and 28 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. On the basis of the Public Bill Office's advice, the usual channels have agreed to recommend to the House that these amendments should not be moved.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am extremely surprised to hear that news, because it was the clear will of the House to deal with the issue of inquests. It voted, it came to a conclusion, and Schedule 1 is merely consequential upon and cleans up that decision. The House voted substantively and I am surprised to hear that the Public Bill Office would think that it was reasonable to keep in the Bill a schedule that is not part of anything substantial, now that the main clauses have been removed.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her statement. Obviously, under the circumstances I shall withdraw my amendment and take the issue up in a different way.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. I should say to the noble Baroness that there is clear guidance. The Public Bill Office has said that her amendments fall outside that guidance. There is a clear procedure which has been followed. It is, therefore, up to the House to decide.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: May I have discussions on the issue before we reach that stage in the Bill? We are not deciding it this second.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the amendment will be called in the usual way. I believe that it is the will of the House that the amendment should not be dealt with, but if the noble Baroness wishes to have further discussions with the Public Bill Office, that is entirely up to her.

Clause 1 : Duty to investigate certain deaths

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 21, leave out subsections (8) and (9)

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, Amendments 1, 3 and 7 concern those coroners' investigations that take more than 12 months to complete. They respond to an amendment which was tabled at Report stage by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and which the House agreed, on a Division, should be added to the Bill. The relevant provision now appears at subsections (8) and (9) of Clause 1, which Amendment 1 would omit. The other government amendments would have substantially the same effect as that passed by the House at Report.

Government Amendment 3 places a duty on a senior coroner to notify the Chief Coroner of any investigation that has not been completed within 12 months of when he or she is made aware that the person has died. There will also be a duty to notify the Chief Coroner when such an investigation is finally completed or discontinued. This is a slight change to the noble Baroness's amendment which would have required senior coroners to provide the Chief Coroner with details of investigations that are likely to take longer than 12 months to complete. I hope that the House will agree that the revised formulation is less open to subjective interpretation.

We also considered whether Amendment 3 should require a senior coroner to notify the Chief Coroner of the date when an investigation of more than 12 months is suspended, as well as the date it is completed or discontinued. On reflection we decided against this. This is because a suspended investigation is ongoing until a coroner is in a position to make a decision on whether or not to resume it. In either eventuality, the amendment already requires the coroner to notify the Chief Coroner if more than 12 months have elapsed since he or she was made aware that the death occurred.

In addition, Amendment 3 places a duty on the Chief Coroner to keep and maintain a register of the deaths which are reported to him or her under this provision. We considered whether the Chief Coroner's

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register should be updated and publicly available on an ongoing basis-for example, as soon as the 12-month time limit has been reached in a particular case-but we concluded that this would be problematic for both resource and personal-privacy reasons. On personal privacy, while some families may have no objection to their loved ones' names being displayed in such a way, others may well find it an unwelcome intrusion into their private grief. There is a risk that journalists or others may believe that it gives them licence to approach families directly to seek their views and opinions on matters relating to the death but entirely unrelated to a delayed investigation.

11.45 am

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