Drug Use and Possession: Royal Commission — Question for Short Debate
The Earl of Onslow (Conservative)
My Lords, about 10 and a half years ago, two rather interesting things happened to me. First, I was elected a Member of this House. Secondly, on the same day, I went on "Have I Got News for You". The first question that Angus Deayton asked me was, "Oh, Lord Onslow, are you in favour of the legalisation of drugs?". I said, "Yes I am and I will answer this question seriously and not flippantly". I said that drugs seem to me to be the greatest threat to social cohesion that there is. They produce crime and getting out of the vicious circle is impossible. Therefore, we must have a much more sensible policy than the one that we have. All the evidence shows that the present policy fails.
I was delighted when my noble friend Lord Norton stressed the importance of evidence. I continued on the programme by saying that, if the evidence shows that we are failing, why do we go on and on? I continued in that vein for some time. The interesting thing was that the audience-they were not way-out hippies but a respectable cross-section of society who had gone to listen to a flippant and funny programme-all clapped at the end. I think that we overestimate the attitude of what could be classed as the red-top newspapers.
The late Lord Colville, who was such a distinguished Member of this House, said that he reckoned that 75 per cent of the people whom he sentenced to get a slight suntan were involved one way or another with drugs as well as crime, including robbery or whatever. It is easier to get drugs in prison than out of prison. I wonder why.
It is not so much the respectable people who suffer from drugs, even though there are to my certain knowledge Members of your Lordships' House with children who have had drug problems. We have even had-I am not breaking a secret-a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House who was a mainline heroin addict and has admitted to it; he has gone on to make a major contribution to the proceedings of this House. It is obviously possible to get out of the problem into which we are looking. It could be made more difficult: the supplier has an incentive if drugs are illegal, whereas if they are not illegal there is no incentive to push.
I am obviously privileged beyond anything to live in a civilised and pleasant place. I do not live in a tower block where needles are lying about the place. For those people the policy of criminalisation makes their lives so much worse. It is for that that I support the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
Before I stop speaking, I should like to say one further thing. I have not been well recently and I should like to thank every single Member of your Lordships' House who has come to me with really nice things to say. It has moved me beyond peradventure and I should like to put that on the record.