Mr Mark Oaten (Winchester, Liberal Democrat)
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I met representatives of DrugScope on Monday, and they made that very point to me.
Having supported the thrust of the Government's proposals, I want to probe them a little more—I accept that the Minister may not be able to respond formally, but I would appreciate a response in writing—about why they have decided to link reclassification with changes to the power of arrest and sentences. At no point did the Select Committee on Home Affairs suggest that the proposals should be linked with new powers of arrest or increased sentences. In fact, that was not mentioned in the Government's drug strategy and, as far as I am aware, the Government have consulted no one about that, other than the police. That is an error because there are knock-on consequences.
Liberal Democrat Members are concerned that those changes will send a very confused, mixed message and that that will lead to the police taking all sorts of different approaches. Frankly, if there is a gain as police time is shifted to dealing with harder drugs, I am concerned that we will lose some of that gain by maintaining such powers of arrest and, indeed, increasing them. I do not understand why the existing powers, under which people who are found unlawfully in possession of a class C drug can be warned, cautioned or issued with a summons to appear in court to face charges of unlawful possession, are inadequate. The police can confiscate the substance. On conviction, those individuals face a maximum penalty of two years in prison for possession, or five years in prison for supply. Surely the existing power to handle class C drugs use is sufficient. Why have the Government chosen to increase those powers?