Prevention of Misuse of Drugs by Young People

Orders of the Day — Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 28th March 1994.

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'.—(1) It shall be the duty of each authority, in co-operation with the police, probation service and such other agencies as it thinks fit, to assess the need for education to prevent the misuse of drugs and other drug-related crime among persons under the age of 18 years in its area.

(2) The Secretary of State may make grants to authorities in order for them—

  1. (a) to fulfil their duty under subsection (1) above, and
  2. (b) to provide the education which, having made the assessment under subsection (1) above, they deem necessary.

(3) In this section, "authority" means—

  1. (a) the council of any county so far as they are the council for an area for which there are no district councils,
  2. (b) the council of any district comprised in an area for which there is no district council,
  3. (c) a London borough council,
  4. (d) the Common Council of the City of London, or
  5. (e)the Council of the Isles of Scilly.'.—[Mr. Michael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

With this we may discuss the following: new clause 5—National drug prevention strategy'.—(1) The Secretary of State shall publish a national strategy for drug prevention.(2) In drawing up the strategy under subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the needs of

  1. (a)persons who are detained in prisons, young offender institutions, remand centres and secure training centres, and
  2. (b)children in the care of local authorities.'.

New Clause 51—Misuse of drugs'The third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh columns of Schedule 4 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (which prescribes the maximum punishment by way of a fine or imprisonment for offences under the Act) shall be amended as follows—

  1. (1) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 4(2) (production, or being concerned in the production, of a controlled drug) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column 5 and "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "Life or a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "50 years" and for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years"; and for the words "5 years of a fine; or both" in column six there shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  2. (2) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 4(3) (supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug or being concerned in the doing of either activity by another) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, "six months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column five and "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "Life or a fine or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "50 years", for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years", and for the words "5 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  3. (3) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 5(2) (having possession of a controlled drug) for the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" and "7 years and a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "Detention in a rehabilitation centre for a term at the court's discretion"; for the words "3 months or £500; or both" and "5 years or a fine; of both" in column five shall be substituted the words "Detention in a rehabilitation centre for a term at the court's discretion"; and for the words "3 months or £200; or both" and "2 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "Detention in a rehabilitation centre for a term at the court's discretion'".
  4. (4) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 5(3) (having possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply it to another) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column five, and "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "Life or a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "50 years", for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years", and for the words "5 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  5. (5) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 6(2) (cultivation of cannabis plant) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" shall be omitted. For the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "25 years".
  6. (6) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 8 (being the occupier, or concerned in the management, of premises and permitting or suffering certain activities to take place there) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column five, and "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "25 years", for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years", and for the words "5 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  7. (7) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 9 (offences relating to opium) the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "14 years or a fine or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "25 years".
  8. (8) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 9A (Prohibition of supply etc. of articles for administering or preparing controlled drugs) for the word "Summary" in column three there shall be substituted the words "On indictment" and for the words "6 months or level 5 on the standard scale; or both" shall be substituted the words "5 years".
  9. (9) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 11(2) (contravention of direction relating to safe custody of controlled drugs) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or level 5 on the standard scale; or both" shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine; or both" shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  10. (10) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 12(6) (contravention of direction prohibiting practitioner etc from possessing supply etc controlled drugs) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column five, and the words "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "25 years"; for the words "14 years or a fine; of both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years" and for the words "5 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  11. (11) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 13(3) (contravention of direction prohibiting practitioner etc from prescribing supply etc controlled drugs) the words "(a) Summary" in column three, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column four, the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column five, and the words "3 months or £500; or both" in column six shall be omitted; and for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column four shall be substituted the words "25 years", for the words "14 years or a fine or both" in column five shall be substituted the words "25 years" and for the words "5 years or a fine; or both" in column six shall be substituted the words "10 years".
  12. (12) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 17(3) (failure to comply with notice requiring information relating to prescribing supply etc of drugs) for the word "Summary" in column three shall be substituted the words "On indictment" and for the words "level 3 on the standard scale" in column seven shall be substituted the words "6 months".
  13. (13) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 17(4) (giving false information in purported compliance with notice requiring information relating to prescribing supply etc drugs) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine; or both; in column seven shall be substituted the words "4 years".
  14. (14) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 18(1) (contravention of regulations (other than regulations relating to addicts)) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" shall be omitted. For the words "2 years or a fine; or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "4 years".
  15. (15) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 18(2) (contravention of terms of licence or other authority (other than licence issued under regulations relating to addicts)) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine; or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "4 years".
  16. (16) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 18(3) (giving false evidence in purported compliance with obligation to give information imposed under or by virtues of regulations) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine; or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "4 years".
  17. (17) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 18(4) (giving false information, or producing documents etc containing false statement etc, for purpose of obtaining issue or renewal of a licence or other authority) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine, or both" shall be substituted the words "4 years".
  18. (18) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 20 (assisting in or inducing commission outside United Kingdom of an offence punishable under a corresponding law) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and the words "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "14 years or a fine; or both" in column seven shall be substituted the words "25 years".
  19. (19) In the entries prescribing the punishment for offences under section 23(4) (obstructing exercise of powers of search etc or concealing books, drugs etc) the words "(a) Summary" in column three and "6 months or the prescribed sum; or both" in column seven shall be omitted; and for the words "2 years or a fine; or both" shall be substituted the words "15 years.".'

New Clause 52—Detention in a rehabilitation centre-'In section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Restrictions of possession of controlled drugs), after subsection (5) shall be inserted the following subsection:

  • "(5A) Anyone convicted of an offence under this section either on indictment or summarily shall be detained in a rehabilitation centre for a term at the court's discretion.".'.

New Clause 64—Drug dependence and rehabilitation programmes in prison

  1. '(1) It shall be the duty of every prison to provide drug dependence rehabilitation programmes to any prisoner who has need of them.
  2. (2) The duty under this section shall be met if such programmes are provided by voluntary organisations.'.

New Clause 65—Reduction in sentences for offenders willing to attend drug rehabilitation programmes

  1. '(1) If a court is satisfied that misuse of drugs contributed to the offence of which an offender has been found guilty, in determining what sentence to pass on that offender, a court shall take into account his willingness to undergo a drug dependence or drug rehabilitation programme of a type specified by the Secretary of State by regulations made by Statutory Instrument.
  2. (2) If, as a result of taking into account any matter referred to in subsection (1) above, the court imposes a punishment on the offender which is less severe than it would otherwise have done, it shall state in open court that it has done so.
  3. (3) If a person fails to complete, or fails to complete successfully, a programme under subsection (1) when a court has reduced a sentence under subsection (2), he shall be guilty of an offence.
  4. (4) An offence under subsection (3) shall be punishable in like manner as the offence under what that person was originally sentenced under subsection (1).'.

New Clause 67—Decriminalisation of cannabis possession and use>— '.—(1) The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2), (3) and (4) of this section.(2) In section 2 (controlled drugs and their classification for the purposes of this Act)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) for the words "Part I, II or III" there shall be substituted the words "Part I, II, III or IIIA";
  2. (b) for paragraph (b) of subsection (1) there shall be substituted the following paragraph—
    • "(b) the expressions 'Class A drug', 'Class B drug', 'Class C drug' and 'Class D drug' mean any of the substances and products for the time being specified respectively in Part I, Part II, Part HI, and Part MA of that Schedule;"
(3) Section 6 (restriction of cultivation of cannabis plant) is hereby repealed.(4) In Schedule 2 (which lists controlled drugs for the purposes of section 2 of that Act)—
  1. (a)in paragraph 1(a) of Part I the words "Cannabinol, except where contained in cannabis or cannabis resin" and "Cannabinol derivatives" shall be omitted;
  2. (b)in paragraph 1(a) of Part II the words "Cannabis" and Cannabis resin" shall be omitted; and
  3. (c)after paragraph 4 of Part III, there shall be inserted—"Part III A
  • Class D Drugs
  1. 1. The following substances, namely:—
    • Cannabinol
    • Cannabis
    • Cannabis resin
  2. 2. Any preparation or other product containing a substance or product for the time being specified in paragraph 1 above.".
(5) The Secretary of State shall by Order made by statutory instrument make rules for the administration, use and distribution of any Class D drug and such amendments and exceptions to the Misuse of Drug Regulations 1985 as will make lawful the production, possession and supply of any Class D drug.(6) No Order shall be made under subsection (5) above unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament and the Secretary of State shall not lay a draft of such an Order before Parliament except after consultation with or on the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs established under section 1 of the 1971 Act.'.

Government amendments Nos. 42, 79, and 81 to 83.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

I intend to speak primarily to new clauses 4 and 5, which require, first, action to prevent drug misuse by young people and, secondly, a national strategy of drug prevention.

It is a bizarre fact that when the Bill went into Committee it contained nothing to combat the problem of drugs and drug-related crime. Bizarre is too kind a word for such an omission, given that drug-related crime is the scourge of communities up and down the country and that up to £2 billion in burglary and property theft relates to the problem. Pressure from the Labour party, which has highlighted the need to tackle the causes of crime as well as crime itself, has resulted in the Government making some response. Did Ministers recognise the craziness of cutting drug co-ordinators' posts? Did they recognise the damage that is being done by cuts in the youth service arising from Government failure to provide funds and leaving idle hands for which the devil is quick to find work? No, the Government's action was to increase the upper limit for fines for drugs offences. They did nothing to cut crime or to prevent drug misuse.

Even more telling was the method that the Minister had to use to propose that change. As the Home Secretary had missed out drugs and drug-related crime as an issue for the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, the Government had to drag it into the Bill with an amendment to the clause which increases penalties under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. The action that the Government propose does nothing to provide the people, the funds, the resources or the strategies to tackle the problems of drugs and drug-related crime. In Committee, the Minister introduced an increase by five times in the maximum fine level for the possession of drugs. It was not asked for and it was irrelevant to the urgent problem to be tackled. Inc identally—[interruption.]

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. May I ask the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to carry on her conversation elsewhere?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

I was surprised, when we discussed the increase in fines for drugs in Committee, to hear that the Justices' Clerks Society had requested that rise. That was the assertion made by Conservative Members and by the Minister. They asserted it as the only example of support for their proposition that they could find. I have since been able to confirm that the Justices' Clerks Society had neither requested nor supported such an increase. The Government and their propositions ended up entirely friendless.

Frankly, increasing the upper limit of fines is irrelevant to the problem that should be addressed in the Bill. Consider the nature of that problem. The total number of notified addicts increased by five times between 1982 and 1992. The number of seizures of drugs increased by 233 per cent. between 1982 and 1992, with the number of seizures for class A drugs rising by 304 per cent.

7.15 pm

In the past week, the publication of provisional figures for drug seizures in 1993 by the National Crime Intelligence Service showed an increase of 342 per cent. in seizures at import of amphetamines compared to 1992. It showed a 19 per cent. increase in the seizure of cannabis and a 25 per cent. increase in the seizure of heroin. The number of people found guilty of drug offences has increased by 153 per cent. since 1982. There has been an especially worrying increase in the number of offences committed by young people. Among under-17s, there has been an increase by five times in the number of drug offenders between 1982 and 1992. In the 17 to 21 age group, there has been an increase of 244 per cent. One would have thought that those increases would have concentrated the mind of Government and brought Ministers to the House with a Bill, and ultimately to the Committee with amendments, which would tackle the problem and its roots. That is not the case.

Research undertaken by Manchester university paints an alarming picture. In a sample of 800 young people aged between 15 and 16 in Merseyside and Greater Manchester, almost half had taken drugs. It appears that a new youth drug culture has developed, associated with raves and so-called dance drugs such as ecstasy, LSD and amphetamines.

It is relevant to tackle those root problems in the Bill because it is also clear that there is a link between crime and drugs. Addicts frequently steal to support their habit and the amounts of money they require to do so are truly frightening. Using a formula supplied by the Greater Manchester police, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has estimated that property worth up to £2 billion is stolen each year by drug addicts to finance their habit. That is why there is a need for a strategy to tackle the use of drugs, especially the use of hard drugs, and the problem of drug abuse by young people.

We need a policy that hits hard at the supply side of the drugs market by combating drug traffickers and dealers. That requires effective police and customs work to deal with the major importers and manufacturing, the distributors and, at street level, the low-level dealers who can make life a total misery for local people. I shall return to that important issue in a moment. In addition, there must be severe penalties for those convicted of trafficking drugs. We must also co-operate at international level to assist developing countries where drugs are grown—an aspect of foreign policy too often ignored and overlooked.

We must also cut the demand for illicit drugs at home. That is absolutely vital because it is quite clear that it is impossible to stop imports totally, despite all the efforts of the police and the customs. That is where we need the measures set out by the Opposition in the new clauses. We seek measures to discourage young people from using drugs in the first instance—for example, education programmes in schools and youth clubs—and measures to provide a range of treatment options for those misusing drugs. The Government failed to listen to those of us who protested when they ended the ring fencing of specific grants for drug and alcohol facilities, especially residential facilities, and now they are seeing their chickens coming home to roost as the availability of those facilities is reduced.

We must have adequate n-eatment for those in prison, in tremand centr s and in secure training centres. We know that drug abu e is rife in prison. Far more must be done to provide treatment for those in institutions. I am glad to see that, in some of the other new clauses, Conservative Members are waking up to the type of new clause that has been proposed by the Opposition on previous occasions. I welcome that and I only hope that they will be able to persuade Ministers of the need for action on the fronts proposed in the measures that I put forward during the passage of what became the Criminal Justice Act 1993, before that during the passage of what became the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and during the passage of this Bill.

We need to tackle the social causes of drug misuse. Ministers have still not adequately recognised those social causes and their many detrimental impacts on our society, which often result in an output through the medium of crime. We need to provide effective sanctions for drug users who are arrested for drug-related offences.

At a local level, the importance of a partnership approach to the problems cannot be overemphasised. Just what can be achieved is shown by the King's Cross partnership. Until recently, 150 dealers in crack, cocaine and heroin operated in King's Cross. Residents felt terrorised and intimidated. A combination of robust enforcement techniques by the police, who cracked down on the dealers, and measures by the two local authorities, Camden and Islington, have produced dramatic results. The two boroughs improved street lighting, changed street design and used their licensing powers to prevent cafes from staying open all night, thereby depriving dealers of refuge. The result is that the number of dealers has been reduced to a handful in less than 18 months.

Ministers pay lip service to partnership at a local level, but those partnerships can succeed only if they have the commitment of police, local authorities and local people working together and if they have the effective support of central Government. The missing partner in so many of the equations is central Government; the people who are missing in terms of practical commitment are Ministers of the Crown.

One vital element of a co-ordinated strategy is drugs prevention education for young people. Against that background, what have the Government done about such education? Last year, they ceased funding for drugs advisers in schools. They expressed concern at the time and said that they were sure that, if drugs education was important, money would be made available by local authorities or other sources. An analysis by the National Liaison Group of Co-ordinators for Health and Drug Education shows that, whereas there were 135 drug education co-ordinators before the cuts in March 1993, now there are only 75. Those still in place are no longer able to devote most of their time to working with young people on drugs education.

No wonder the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which was set up to advise Ministers on drugs policy, would they only listen, said in a report in June 1993: We are concerned that the ending of the funding for preventative health education will mean that many local authorities will not be able to fund their health education initiatives … those in the more deprived areas where drugs might be more prevalent may be least able to provide financial resources to finance this work. Tackling the drugs problem and, therefore, the crime that is related to drugs requires a co-ordinated policy. It requires co-ordination of response not just from the Home Office but from other Ministers, such as those involved with health, education and local government. We see no sign of the co-ordination and close working that is needed. Yes, there is a ministerial group, but we see no sign that it will introduce the positive action that is necessary to deal with the problems of drug-related crime and the causes of those problems. It is small wonder that the chairman of the all-party group on drugs, the hon. Member for Lewis (Mr. Rathbone), described the ending of funding as a "near scandal".

Drugs education is vital to the fight against drugs and drug-related crime. Our new clause would place a duty on the local authority to assess the need for drugs education and would allow the Home Secretary to ensure that drug prevention education was reinstated across the country. We seek the partnership that the Government should encourage. The Government should accept the new clauses tonight.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

I shall speak to the new clauses standing in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. They relate to the reduction in sentences for offenders willing to attend drug rehabilitation programmes—new clause 65–and to drug dependence and rehabilitation programmes in prison—new clause 64.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is not alone in his concern about drugs and drug-related crime. We are all aware that property crime committed by drug addicts seeking to finance their cravings has been running at about £2 billion a year. I estimate that the cost is' equal to about £114 stolen from every household in the country.

I accept that the Government are fully aware of the problem and I congratulate them on trying, among other things, to identify drug addicts. An example of that is clause 128, which empowers prison officers to take samples from an inmate on arrival in prison. However, there is no point in doing that unless it is carried through to its logical conclusion. The only way that prisoners will not reoffend is to wean them off drugs in the first place. There must be no half-hearted measures and, as in all things, it takes two to tango.

As shown in new clause 65, there must be an incentive for an offender to undertake a course in drug rehabilitation. Under the new clause, there could be a reduction in sentence if an offender were willing to undertake the drug treatment programme. My response to the cynic who might say, "Well, any prisoner would agree to promise that if he got a reduction in sentence", would be that the sting in the tail would be that if the prisoner failed to complete the course successfully, he would have to serve the whole of the original sentence.

New clause 64 is the second part of the tango. It puts the onus on the Government to provide effective drug rehabilitation services. At present, they are woefully inadequate. It is not sufficient for officials at a prison such as Whitemoor, which I visited just a few months ago, to say, "Ah, we have prison counselling services available should any prisoner ask for them." It is no wonder that every prison in the land is riddled with drugs and that the inmates leave prison high on drugs only to reoffend.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan , Chesham and Amersham

I agree in principle with what my hon. Friend is saying. However, does she believe that statutory provision is required? A few weeks ago, I went to look at Holloway prison. The prison governor told me that he wishes to experiment with drug-free zones within the prison. That would be successful only if the prisoners undertook to be tested on a random or regular basis for drugs. In return, they would receive extra privileges. Does my hon. Friend agree that that method, rather than going the whole hog and introducing statutory provision, might be the way in which to deal with the problem?

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

The governor of Holloway prison should look to the example of the governor of Downview prison, who already has in place a successful drug rehabilitation programme that works exactly as my hon. Friend describes. Downview prison, which is in Banstead on the edge of my constituency, has a programme run by a voluntary agency called the Addictive Diseases Trust. The trust runs intensive courses of about 12 weeks and they are attended on a voluntary basis. Since the courses began two years ago, 200 prisoners have now either successfully completed the course or are in the process of doing so.

The success of the scheme is such that it is the only prison in the country where there is a drug-free corridor. Prisoners can qualify for that corridor only if they submit themselves to a urine test, which provides an incentive for maintaining the programme on rehabilitation. We find that having one drug-free corridor in the prison has led to other prisoners asking about it. They are applying to join it from other prisons and it will undoubtedly lead to a day when the governor will say, "I shall no longer just have a corridor; I shall have an entire wing."

I have visited Downview several times and I have sat with the inmates in the counselling area, which is called the "Serenity Shack", and seen them undergoing their counselling. Interestingly, it is conducted by a former drug addict who speaks the addicts' own language and who is able to understand their problems. In that way, he puts a lot of discipline on the prisoners to complete the programme. It was interesting that the inmates told me about their sheer relief in finding a course of treatment that was effective and that relieved them of a nightmare that had begun when they were children aged between 10 and 12 and first started to experiment with soft drugs. I have had discussions with grown men, lifers and murderers, who have broken down in tears at their wasted lives. They felt that drugs controlled their lives and caused misery for their families and themselves, and they felt that there was no stopping this terrible curse.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

Will my hon. Friend join me in resisting all moves to legalise soft drugs, as that is the start of the slippery slope to crime and a deprived life?

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam 7:30 pm, 28th March 1994

I thank my hon. Friend for that most useful remark, which I totally support. I find it scandalous that there is a new clause that would legalise soft drugs. I cannot understand how any party can be so irresponsible.

It is interesting that those inmates now feel that a burden has been taken off their shoulders. They are fitter, healthier and have control over their lives. Most important, there is no incentive for them to reoffend when they are released from prison. That can only be of benefit to everyone.

According to a parliamentary reply that I received some weeks ago, the Government's contribution to the enormously successful programme is barely £18,000 a year. The rest of the money comes from voluntary contributions. Private discussions with the Government have not yet encouraged me to believe that they are willing to extend that programme to other prisons. They have doubts on the grounds of cost and the fact that the treatment is not fully proven. The programme at Down view prison has meant that 20 former prisoners are now free and have successfully remained off drugs. That alone more than compensates for the cost of the programme.

It is shortsighted to say, "Let us keep watching and waiting". As the Government spend £36 million a year on the disastrous Health Education Authority, I suggest that they make a cut in the budget on pornographic sex education and put £1 million into an effective rehabilitation programme, the benefits of which have already been tried and tested at Downview prison, where the results are open for all to see. Could not that programme be extended to all prisons in this country? We have no time to waste. We should get on with the programme as a matter of urgency, and I trust that the Government will give the subject full consideration.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

This is the worst nightmare that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) could have imagined—I rise to speak in favour of new clause 67, which proposes to decriminalise cannabis possession and use. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to say this, but so that Conservative Members, even the most obdurate ones, understand, the proposal is not supported by those on the Front Bench of the official Opposition. It is not Labour party policy to decriminalise cannabis.

I understand that this i s the first opportunity that we have had in about 15 years to decriminalise cannabis rather than just to talk about it. Despite what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said about how scandalous it was that anyone should even presume to urge the decriminalisation of cannabis, there is a debate going on outside the House. That debate involves not only a bunch of 1960s ex-hippies, but judges, senior police officers involved with the drug squad, the head of Interpol, the Surgeon General of the United States of America, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Times, The Economist, and a number of right-wing radical groups. The issue is not confined, therefore, to one narrow sector of society.

One of my worries was that, despite that debate outside the House, we were not able to debate the matter in the House. All I want to do is promote a debate, so that we can be sure that we are judging the situation as it should be judged—dispassionately, coolly and in the interests of the population.

I enter a personal note.:I have never in my life taken or used illegal substances such as cannabis. I do not know how many Conservative Members can put their hands on their hearts and say that. [Interruption.] I can see three or four raised hands among Conservative Members, so I must assume that at some stage the rest have partaken.

I have done a little bit of homework. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not at the Dispatch Box, because I have been reading about some of his wilder moments at university. I would like him to come to the Dispatch Box, put his hand on his heart and say that he has never in his life used cannabis. He might find some difficulty doing that and being honest at the same time.

I am not speaking on behalf of myself or to legalise anything that I have done in the past. That is not a moral point, but something that is worth putting on the record. Much to my regret, the permissive 1960s seem to have passed me by in all respects. I have made up for it in certain areas since then, but this is not one of them.

Between 1.5 million and 5 million of our citizens regularly use cannabis for recreational purposes. My new clause seeks to create a new category of drug, class D drugs that would, in effect, put cannabis on the same level as alcohol and tobacco. Although it is legal to purchase alcohol and tobacco, we do so under strict conditions. They are not always enforced, but the law exists to enforce them, should we wish. They must be bought from licensed premises, they should not be sold to people under a certain age; there are tax, revenue and quality considerations. My proposal would only put cannabis on the same level as alcohol and nicotine.

If one was being strictly logical, one would consider the health aspects of cannabis, nicotine and alcohol, then legalise cannabis and ban alcohol and nicotine. I have not yet been able to discover anyone who has died from using cannabis, but, every year, tens of thousands of our citizens die from, and suffer from illnesses related to, using alcohol and nicotine. We talk about drugs, but alcohol and nicotine are far more potent drugs than cannabis.

We are not even using language in the correct sense. When we talk about cannabis, we are discussing an illegal substance or drug. When we talk about tobacco and alcohol, we are discussing legal drugs.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

I hope that the hon. Member will accept that, if tobacco came on to the market now, as a brand new product, no responsible Government would legalise its general use for the public. In that case, why should he now ask for two wrongs to make one right? Surely society should be protected from soft drugs, just as we would wish to protect it from tobacco, if it came on to the market as a new product.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

That is an interesting point. If we decided in our wisdom and on health grounds—the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are legitimate health grounds—to ban nicotine, we would create a large crime wave which would dwarf anything we had ever seen. Obviously, therefore, we cannot do that.

Cannabis is not as destructive of human health as nicotine. In those circumstances, I cannot accept what the hon. Member said, on two grounds, but he is right in one respect. If Sir Walter Raleigh had just returned with the new product of tobacco, I suspect that we would have banned it. Perhaps we would not even have allowed him to bring in potatoes.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

If the theory is that, by banning a drug, we protect people from it, could my hon. Friend explain the experience of a large number of my young constituents, who find themselves in no way protected from the possibility of being hooked on the drug and caught in the crime wave that goes with it?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

My hon. Friend is correct. Surveys show that a significant cross-section of society use cannabis for recreational purposes. Cannabis features in 90 per cent. of all drug offences. When we talk about drug offences, we are effectively talking about cannabis, and there were 42,000 offenders in 1991.

As well as the debate outside the House, the police, by their actions, are allowing cannabis use. When they pick up people who are carrying a small amount of cannabis that is clearly for personal use, they issue a caution and let them off. That is what is happening. I do not know what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam would say about that, but it is a fact, and the House should recognise that.

People often say—the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) said it—that the use of soft drugs is the slippery slope towards the chasm. For some people that may be true, but not for everyone. One could also say that, as soon as someone sips a glass of dry sherry, they are on the slippery slope to drinking meths on the Embankment. I assume that the poor unfortunates who end up hopeless alcoholics started off by drinking a dry sherry, but that does not mean that everyone who has a beer or a glass of sherry ends up a hopeless alcoholic.

In countries where cannabis has been decriminalised, such as Holland, there has been a fall in the number of hard drug users. While I am on the subject of Holland, I must point out that we are in danger of creating drugs tourism in the European Union. If different laws apply in different countries in a union, where the movement of people across national boundaries is that much easier, people who are interested in experimenting with illegal substances will obviously move to the countries where they are more freely available. We should be concerned about drugs tourism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) mentioned the extensive criminal activity that surrounds drug supply and said that it was estimated that 50 per cent. of property crimes are associated with drug supply and demand. The police recognise that, like prostitution, the use of illegal substances is something that they can never stop, whatever resources we give them. They also maintain that we do not give them enough resources to meet the demands that the Government place on them.

The decriminalisation of cannabis will allow control and regulation and that is the way to approach the matter. It would also allow the police to use their resources more effectively in other areas where damage is being done to our citizens. I do not know whether the use of cannabis damages the people who use them or society, but much of the criminal activity surrounding the supply of such substances clearly damages us all.

I am not saying that, because we cannot beat it, we should legislate for it and legalise it. That is like saying that, because we cannot beat house burglary or car crime, we will make them legal. However, why should millions of citizens be criminalised for an activity that, according to the evidence that I have gathered, does not harm them, as the users, or harm others?

When the Home Secretary tried to whip up some grass roots support at the Conservative party conference by saying, "Let's hit them with harder penalties," it was an absurd, but typical, reaction. We are not hitting them and we are not dealing with the problem, so how on earth will stiffer penalties solve the problem? It is not surprising that a range of eminent authorities attacked the Home Secretary's proposals.

If we move from criminalisation to regulation, we can start to treat the drug-dependent—that is somewhat different from using cannabis—as patients rather than as criminals. We can also deal with drug education in a different way. It is difficult to become involved in education about drugs, because drug-taking is an illegal activity. Much HIV infection is passed on via people who use hard drugs, and we are not controlling that.

I am not advocating drug use. I have never used the stuff, nor do I intend to, although I do not object to it. If someone gave me a hash brownie, I would probably pop it down, but I would not smoke hash because I do not like smoke getting into my lungs. I am not advocating drug use, but decriminalisation would have some tangible benefits. One benefit is that it would allow up to 5 million of our citizens who use cannabis for recreational purposes to be brought within the law, rather than criminalised.

In summary, if the new clause were accepted and placed in the Bill it would: release law enforcement resources; improve police-community relations and, therefore, police effectiveness; all but eliminate revenue-raising crime to fund illegal purchases; enable effective measures to curb the spread of HIV; improve the health of people using drugs; increase the credibility of health education messages; and improve early access to treatment for those developing drug problems.
The legal trade would have tax benefits, which would no doubt appeal to some Conservative Members; would eliminate the excessive illicit profits that generate violence and corruption; and would remove a major spur to the erosion of traditional, legal safeguards.
On all those grounds, at an appropriate stage I shall urge the House to support new clause 7.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes 7:45 pm, 28th March 1994

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), speaking for the Opposition,' directed his comments towards the Home Office and its Ministers. I echo the tenor of many of his comments, but he should have directed them to the Secretary of State for Education rather than to the Home Secretary.

Lack of education—especially the education of young people—is an appalling chink in the Government's activities to tackle the misuse of drugs, and I say so advisedly. It is not that nothing is going on as there is much activity. Such illustrious organisations as TACADE are providing extremely well-designed material and Life Education Centres have marvellous programmes that are directed towards young children. They are doing their stuff and are supported by voluntary agencies.

However, I fear that, all too often, they are left to get on with it. The Government's decision to cut Government funding for health education co-ordinators in education authorities was appalling. As I told my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Education Ministers, I hope that they will review that decision, and I am sorry that they are not on the Front Bench for our consideration of new clauses 4 and 5.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has just left the Chamber, also took an unfair swipe at my hon. Friend the Minister. Home Office initiatives are one of the areas in which Government activities are excellent. A word of warning, however, as their activities are under review. The Department should not undertake a review like that conducted by Ministers for Education—to find out how best to stop excellent initiatives. I hope that it will find out how programmes can be extended to other cities, towns and regions.

Programmes work best where a co-operative venture is already in place, as was the case in Sussex. Brighton had the first drugs initiative and it was able to stitch in with the East Sussex drugs advisory council and all the good work that it has done. That is an excellent example of what Government funding for a Government initiative can achieve, working with local people.

I must offer some words of warning about the ideas about decriminalisation put forward by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). First, he cited the director general of Interpol in support of his contention, but he was taken out of context, and has been quoted very selectively. I shall be delighted to share with the hon. Member the correspondence that I have received from the director general in recent weeks.

Like the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, I am a delegate to the Council of Europe. I should remind him that the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs was debated extensively at the Council—I was proud to be the rapporteur for that debate. The recommendation not to legalise drugs was carried unanimously in the Council, which then embraced 26 nations—certainly no fewer—with the support of representatives from all parties of all nations.

The truth of the matter is that the decriminalisation of drugs will not work, and that cannabis has worse effects than the hon. Member for Newham, North-West suggested. It increases the likelihood of lung infection, because it increases the toxic gases in cigarettes, it affects people's brains and, most important of all, it has severe effects on young girls, because it affects their reproductive organs.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

I will not give way, because I was immensely restrained during the hon. Member's speech, and I know that the House wants to make progress.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I would have given way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

The hon. Member seemed to hang his argument on the idea that, as cannabis is only a recreational drug, it should be made legal. Those who take hard nasty drugs such as cocaine and heroin also look upon them as so-called recreational drugs. To hang the arguments about decriminalisation on allowing people to have more legal fun when they are having illegal fun now is a rather sad commentary from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

New clauses 64 and 65, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) relate to drug treatment in prisons. We do not know how many prisoners misuse drugs. We know that about 45,000 people are in prison, and we know that they are roughly representative of the population. A survey of prisoners in 1989 found that 43 per cent. said that they used drugs regularly outside prison. It is therefore likely that they could be misusing drugs inside prison.

The British Medical Association found that 40 per cent. of women prisoners in Holloway may have problems with drugs—my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke about that earlier. The 1991 national prison survey reported that 41 per cent. of prisoners who were questioned said that their first confrontation with police was because of drink or drugs. That relates to the comments made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

Of the cases tried by magistrates in the London area, 80 per cent. involve drink or drugs. That highlights the need for treatment for misuse of drugs and alcohol, and the fact that one should not differentiate between them.

It is extremely difficult to provide such treatment in prisons. Those involved in the work of the Addictive Diseases Trust have said categorically: Admitting to a drug or alcohol problem in prison can have unpleasant consequences on release. That is absolutely true, but it is still essential to have the ability to offer that treatment.

In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, I lift my hat to the Addictive Diseases Trust and to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is more famous for other things, for his marvellous support of and deep involvement with the trust. I also commend Jonathan Wallace, the trust's director, on getting a unit going in Downview prison.

New clause 64 makes an important reference to "voluntary organisations". The Addictive Diseases Trust believes, based on its experience, that it is essential to establish with inmates that the treatment process is not part of the prison system, and that its staff are not employed directly by the Home Office or the prison service. That is not a criticism of my hon. Friend the Minister or of prison officers, but it means that such treatment must be at arm's length from the Department and the prison service to make it a credible point of contact to which prisoners may turn.

The success of that concept is endorsed by everyone who has had any experience of what has gone on in Downview prison. I know that the prison governor, the area manager and everyone from the Home Office who has visited the prison is behind that concept. They are supportive because they can see the effect on prisoners. It is also important to consider the rollover effect, because, when I visited that prison, it was clear to me—I am sure that the Minister can confirm this—that the treatment was helping not only the prisoners, but their wives and their families to come to grips with their problems outside.

The Addictive Diseases Trust says: We are in the business of turning liabilities into assets. I believe that the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam would achieve just that.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

In common with the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), I should like briefly to discuss the three sets of amendments and new clauses that have been grouped together.

I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that the Government have not shown a co-ordinated appreciation of the serious threat that drugs are posing to society. As the hon. Member for Lewes has said, it is true that the Department for Education is primarily to blame for the recent ending of the role of health education co-ordinators. Earlier today, Ministers—most notably the Foreign Secretary, in his statement to the House—told us about the importance of collective responsibility. I believe that the Departments of Health and for Education and the Home Office should be working closely together to tackle the problem of drugs, which afflicts society.

My main concern about the Home Office is that it is not devoting sufficient resources, research and analysis to the extent of the problem. It is true that anecdotal evidence suggests that many offences can be traced to a criminal seeking to finance his drug-taking habits. The statistical evidence to support that, at least that which is available to the public, is extremely slender. With crime figures rocketing, the time has come for a much more scientific analysis of the relationship of drugs to offending.

New clauses 4 and 5 deal with cognate matters—the imposition of a duty upon local authorities, funded by Home Office grants, to pursue anti-drugs education in partnership with the police and other agencies. New clause 5 would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a national strategy for drug prevention. That too would focus on education and young people in custody or care.

I sympathise with and support the intention behind the clauses, and they are a useful peg on which to hang the debate, but we must recognise that education on drugs often misses the target. I give full credit to the Home Office for its responsibility for a valuable study which was prepared at Sheffield university by Marian Lightner and others. It showed that drug education was most likely to be effective among those socio-economic groups that were responsive to education generally.

Those who are least responsive to education are, broadly, those most disposed to take harder drugs, and indeed all drugs more frequently. Therefore, although it is important to educate in schools, we cannot regard even an extensive drugs education in schools as sufficient, and we require counselling services and detoxification centres outside schools to catch those who are not caught by what goes on in schools.

Another report, produced for the Department of Health on young people and illicit drug use, researched at Durham university, found that it was commonplace among young 13 to 18-year-olds in some areas to take drugs. Drug use and abuse by children is growing, and growing frighteningly. There must be very few head teachers in the land who can put their hands on their hearts and say that drugs are not being brought into their schools. I do not sense that the urgency of tackling that problem is reflected in Government thinking.

One of the group of amendments has not yet been moved by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Perhaps he will forgive me if I mention it even before he has moved it, for there is much to be said for new clause 52, which would require the detention in rehabilitation centres of drug addicts convicted of possession under section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

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It has to recommend it, first, the fact that prisons are not the best places to send people who need to kick the habit of drug-taking. Secondly, detention in a rehabilitation centre might at least prevent reoffending in the same way on release. It is extremely important that drug addicts are given rehabilitation rather than prison sentences, but we have to qualify that view by recognising that such centres do not currently exist extensively around the country.

I think that the proposal of the hon. Member for Tayside, North is almost certainly not capable of implementation on practical grounds, but the thrust of his argument is extremely important. It also has to be recognised that treatment for drug addiction is not always lasting or successful, and that lasting care for ex-addicts is necessary to prevent recidivism. The hon. Gentleman might care to consider that in the context of his thinking about those matters, for follow-up and after-care are extraordinarily important.

Many addicts who come before the courts do not do so because they are addicts. They are tried for other offences and convicted of other offences, and their addiction comes to light only once they are taken into custody.

With those reservations, I generally support the thrust of new clause 52, but I think that the intentions of the hon. Member for Tayside, North were similar to those expressed by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who speaks with some obvious personal interest and knowledge of activities and regimes in certain prisons where drug rehabilitation programmes are being experimented with. I agree with her that it is sensible that those programmes should be tried out by other prisons and by voluntary agencies working in prisons. We need all the help and

The hon. Member for Lewes said that, although we know that drug abuse in prison is high, we cannot accurately quantify it, and certainly not all users come to the attention of the authorities. Measures to restrict the supply of drugs, even in the newest prisons, are never, as far as one can make out, completely successful. Further, a person who is already in prison may not be deterred by an extension of sentence for drug use, so I think that a strategy of drug demand reduction is required.

The treatment of drug dependence among prisoners is an important part of tackling offending behaviour generally, as they are often linked, and the availability of treatment is crucial. I therefore support the thinking of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam that lies behind the clause. I shall be interested to see whether she presses it to a Division in the face of the reluctance of the Government to move in the direction that she has in mind.

Many of the arguments which I have adduced in support of her new clause 64 would obtain in respect of new clause 65, as it allows the court to reduce the sentence of an offender where it believes that drug use contributed to the crime and where the offender is willing to go on a rehabilitation course.

I think that that power is unlikely to be frequently used because of the difficulty of proving causation, but its value would lie in the recognition that drugs can lead to crimes that would not otherwise be committed. An addict who receives treatment may be in greater danger of returning to dependence while inside prisons where drugs are more readily available than outside.

The last group of amendments which I wish to mention includes new clause 51, which would alter the sentences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to provide that all offences will be tried on indictment—most can be tried either way at present. Maximum sentences for possession, supply or production would be 50 years for class A, 25 years for class B and 10 years for class C.

Longer sentences are known to contribute little to deterring others or to preventing reoffending. In the United States, minimum sentences and an explosion in the number of convictions have not reduced the incidence of drug crime or addiction. A heavy-handed criminal justice response may even exacerbate the drugs problem by driving users further from other agencies offering rehabilitation, and by increasing the violence associated with drug-dealing.

I am less attracted to that proposal of the hon. Member for Tayside, North. The Government too often instinctively believe that one tackles criminal problems by lengthening sentences. The position of drug addicts and drug users is quite different from that of drug dealers, who require stiff penalties. Prison is the last place that one would choose to send many addicts.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for opening up in Parliament a debate which is widely being continued outside the House of Commons. He is right to say that it is a serious debate, and it is one in which there have been powerful advocates. Among others, a leader in the Financial Times and a number of very senior doctors have supported the decriminalisation not only of cannabis, but of other drugs.

I do not believe that that can be contemplated at this time by Parliament. I believe that it would run completely counter to widespread public perception, and that Parliament cannot legislate too far in advance of public opinion on an issue of that type. None the less, it is an important issue, and the Government are not approaching the problem of the widespread illegal use of cannabis with any coherence or sense.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has noticed the contrast between the attitude of the Home Office, which has increased the penalty to £2,500 for cannabis-related offences in England, and that of the Scottish Office, which has introduced what it calls a fiscal fine of £25. It seems to me that that reflects what I was speaking about earlier—the lack of coherence in the Government's approach to the handling of the drug problem.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

indicated assent.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) is agreeing with me. I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Will the hon. Gentleman look at Government amendments Nos. 79 and 82, which make exactly the same fine provisions for Scotland?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I have noticed those amendments, which I suspect were tabled because I and other hon. Members have drawn attention to the oddity of treating the two systems differently. They do not detract from the point that I am making about the use of fiscal fines, which are a measure of Scottish society's attitude to cannabis taking.The police have welcomed the measure, as it will avoid their efforts being diverted towards chasing up relatively minor drug-related crimes, and will enable them to concentrate their stretched resources on hard drugs dealing, which is so much more profitable.

A risk that I have not heard seriously discussed is the fact that, if the penalty for dealing in soft drugs becomes so high that the risk to dealers is unacceptable, dealers may turn to dealing in hard drugs, which are much more profitable. That would be an untoward result of the Government's approach.

I recommend the Scottish Office's approach to the Home Office, which I hope will see fit to follow suit.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

What decision was taken at the Liberal Democrat party conference with regard to legalising soft drugs?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The hon. Gentleman refers to a resolution passed at a Scottish conference of the Liberal Democrat party in 1993, which Conservative central office has helpfully furnished to Tory Members, and a copy of which has conveniently come into my hands. That proposal was passed in Scotland and reflects the fact that the debate about drugs in Scotland is, in some ways, more advanced. It was put forward in the spirit of the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. I have no intention of voting for his amendment and, as far as I am aware, the Liberal Democrat party has no intention of doing so.

It is not Liberal Democrat policy that cannabis or other illegal drugs should be legalised. I do not suppose that Conservative central office will subsequently circulate my speech, but I should none the less like to put on the record the fact that we have opposed the decriminalisation of cannabis because, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, the health effects are uncertain.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the feared adverse health effects and I have heard similar evidence from other doctors. It is also uncertain whether legitimised cannabis dealing would lead dealers to use that drug to promote other drugs. We have supported the Scottish Office proposal to make first-time offences of possession subject to non-criminal fiscal fines. That approach should be followed south as well as north of the border.

My main message to the Home Office today is that it should get its act together and join the Departments of Health and for Education. Let us pool the talent and concerns and use them constructively to tackle the most serious problem facing this country today, which is a major factor in the rise of crime.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I wish to discuss new clauses Nos. 51 and 52. It is unusual to hear other hon. Members discuss new clauses that one has not yet had an opportunity to move.

Like the hon.Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I can say that I have had no association whatever with drugs, even though as a young man I spent some time in the bazaars of the middle east during His Majesty's pleasure. Although I frequently speak about alcohol, particularly Scotch whisky, I am teetotal. Nor do I smoke, but that does not stop me discussing smoking. Like the hon. Gentleman, my interest is to try to find a solution to the ghastly problem facing the United Kingdom and the whole of the civilised world.

8.15 pm

There is no single, simple solution. Anyone who has studied the problem realises that, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) properly said, the problem exists in our schools and any problem in our schools affects every age group in the community. It would therefore be nonsense simply to consider a narrow solution. The value of this debate is that it gives us an opportunity to address the matter in the round.

Deterrence has a part to play in dealing with the problem. I am not naive enough to imagine that it alone is a solution, but I have always believed that penalties deter some people and must therefore be part of the package. After all, given that we are faced with a fivefold increase in fines for drugs possession, we must recognise that present sentences are not enough.

New clause 51 proposes sentences to deal with not just addicts. Although one is concerned with the increase in addicts, the illegal drugs industry generates a turnover of between £2 billion and £2.5 billion per annum. It is a massive industry. Given the amount of money presently being laundered through the financial sector from the illicit drugs trade, its effect on anyone connected with the trade, whether school boys or girls, adults involved in laundering the money or handling the products, or dealers involved in distribution, must be addressed. It is an international trade. A number of recent incidents in Scotland have revealed evidence that the drugs have been landed in the north-west of Scotland for distribution in the United Kingdom.

Our interest therefore covers much more than simply what is happening in schools, which is why we must consider carefully the sentences available to the courts. It would be far better to use the term "50 years" than the term "life". That would show anyone thinking of offending in this way that he was liable to find himself locked up for 50 years.

I immediately accept that we have to think of ways of weaning addicts off drugs. My first experience of addicts came with people who were addicted to drink—not unusual in Scotland. When I was a boy it was common to see drunks around the city of Dundee after 9.30 pm, because the public houses closed early. One of the factors that got rid of that problem was a more liberal approach to drinking hours in the pubs. It brought about a dramatic change in drinking fashions.

Many youngsters become involved in drugs as a result of peer pressure. That is why we have to rethink sentencing policy, and it is why I tabled new clause 51. I will not go through the new clause in detail—I could speak for two or three hours if I did, and I sense that the mood of the House would be against that. I should like to make it clear that I could not support any attempt to legalise cannabis.

One reason why I oppose legalising drugs came to my attention when my wife and I visited Switzerland, whither I had gone to assess the impact of its more liberal approach to drug offences. I would hate to see here what I saw around the Parliament building in Switzerland: people using needles in public places in the middle of the day. As I told my wife, I could not think of any other country in the civilised world where one could observe people using needles right outside a parliament building.

I defy anyone to walk outside this building in the middle of the afternoon and find someone using needles publicly in the immediate precincts. People were doing this in Switzerland because of the so-called liberal approach. Swiss parliamentarians told me that, following the introduction of the more liberal approach, known addicts converged on the area because they knew that they would be safe from conviction there. Now this may be what some people want, but it does not appeal to me—it is one reason why I find it difficult to accept arguments in favour of legalisation. In this life it is often a good thing to go and observe such experiments to find out whether they work.

Next, I wish to discuss the rehabilitation centres covered by new clause 52. Part of the answer to the problem must be helping those who are part of the problem—the addicts. It is important to give the courts the opportunity to detain anyone convicted under the proposed subsection (5A) for a term—it will be left to the courts' discretion—that will be required to wean people off their drugs. That is only sensible.

I recognise that this cannot be done without some cost to the taxpayer. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland rightly drew attention to the fact that these centres do not yet exist. He will know that in the years before the second world war there were no centres to help people with alcohol problems either; we had to create them, and the industry itself was largely responsible for paying for them. I should like to think that some of the stiff fines to be imposed on the illegal drug trade, not to mention the repossession of traders' goods and property, will be used to fund the rehabilitation centres.

I would not want anyone to think, just because I have spoken briefly, that my views on deterrence in this matter differ from my views on deterrence in defence or in any other terms. I believe that deterrence has an important part to play in helping to change attitudes and to convince people who might consider getting involved in the trade that the risks of so doing are unacceptably high.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I support my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench and affirm the strength of feeling among ordinary people in London, the centre of Britain's drugs trade, about the rising tide of drug misuse and drug-related crime. The problem is acute in my constituency.

As leading members of the Labour party have pointed out, a major issue at stake is the number of crimes committed in order to raise money to feed the drug habit. Half recorded property crime is due to people trying to find the money to feed their habit. That concerns ordinary Londoners. Many of the prostitutes on the streets of London and our other great cities are there to pay for their habit. I cannot stress too much the desperation felt by ordinary people trying to bring up their families when they discover that someone in the next-door flat or the upstairs flat in their estates has set up as a drug retailer. The misuse of drugs and drug-related crimes are ruining the lives of ordinary Londoners in places like Hackney.

Crack and cocaine are the newest scourge among hard drug users. On the streets of my constituency I see young men whose lives have been shattered by drug misuse.

Londoners are increasingly worried about the growth in the use of guns in drug-related crime. Guns are being fired off in crowded clubs, yet crimes involving guns are not given the sort of publicity that they deserve—they are all related to drug misuse. Londoners and the people of Hackney want a real war to be waged against drugs, based on a coherent appraisal of the problem.

That is where the Government are failing—failing the people of Hackney, the people of London and the people of Britain. The problem of the rising tide of drug misuse is complex; it is not just about token gestures in respect of fines. For instance, we need to examine foreign policy issues, such as the amount of aid given to certain countries. Small farmers in the Caribbean and the middle east turn to drug production because it is often their only means of earning hard currency for their families.

If the Governments of Britain and the United States were serious about fighting drugs, they would have to look again at aid for third world countries—and at banana production in the Caribbean. If small farmers in Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean are driven out of banana production, they will turn to growing drugs.

We also need to examine bank secrecy laws. It is no good Tory Ministers posing as being concerned about drugs while they continue, judging by their activities in relation to international banking regulation, to support the Bank of England's endeavour to stop effective disclosure laws. It is because of bank secrecy that the drug barons can shovel their money across continents.

As I say, we must also look at our support for third world countries' attempts to fight drugs. In Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean the drug barons have more highly powered and expensive speed boats than do the coastguards. If this country were serious about fighting drugs, it would be pumping money into Caribbean coastal defences—after all, Caribbean countries provide calling off points for the drug barons.

It is easy enough to see drug dealers on the streets and in council flats. However, the people making money from drugs, the Mr. Bigs, are not visible and are often not touched by the Government.

Hon. Members spoke about treatment and education. Nobody takes drug abuse and drug-related crime more seriously than those who live and work in inner cities. We do not want token gestures by the Government. We want an overall strategy on drugs which takes into account the foreign policy issues that I have raised and education and rehabilitation. Above all, it must take on board the need for a co-ordinated law and order strategy. The environments of too many people are being ruined, too many communities are being harmed and too many children are having their lives destroyed. The Government have failed the country on the drugs issue and the people of Hackney and London want a real war against drugs.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale 8:30 pm, 28th March 1994

I should like to make four brief points.

First, I totally agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) said about the withdrawal of funding for health education workers. I recently called a meeting in my rural constituency for representatives from the police, the churches, schools and youth workers to discuss how to deal with the growing problem of drug taking by young people and the availability of drugs in our market towns. One of the strongest messages from the meeting was the real concern about the withdrawal of that funding by the Department for Education. I urge the Minister to make sure that the Department for Education is fully aware of the anger and outrage felt by many of our supporters in market towns about the withdrawal of that funding.

Secondly, I should like to respond to the criticism of the Government for increasing the fines for so-called soft drugs. I cannot understand the argument that it is wrong to increase the fines for the possession of amphetamines as well as for the possession of cannabis. We hear a great deal about cannabis, but amphetamines are in the same drugs group. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said about cannabis being the main drug, in his annual report published just a few days ago the chief constable of North Yorkshire said: There has generally been a decline in the use of cannabis as against the misuse of amphetamines which is strongly increasing. We have to tackle that head on. When the police arid the customs authorities catch people who are involved in drug trafficking the only offence to which many of them will plead guilty or of which they can be found guilty—given the requirements for evidence—is possession. I warmly welcome the increase in fines and it is reassuring to know that it will apply to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) has said, many of the improvements in interdiction have led to drugs seizures in Scotland.

Thirdly, I should like to make a point that has not been made on the legalisation of drugs. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made a genuine attempt to introduce that subject to the House. There is high tax on two other poisons—alcohol and tobacco. If we were even to think about trying to control the availability of cannabis through some form of decriminalisation, presumably for health reasons, if for no other, the substance would have to be subject to high tax. That suggests that we could still end up with a black market. I am sure that the House will want to return to the issue again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) tabled new clauses on drugs rehabilitation. In that context, one obvious point has not been made. If, as we all agree, the number of offences being committed in this country, especially petty crimes against property, is by known criminals to fund their habit of drug abuse, it must be right that while such people are in prison they should be rehabilitated. It is the one thing that we could do constructively to reduce the recidivism of people leaving prison.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson , Nottingham South

I support new clauses 4, 5 and 67. In the debate on the previous amendments the Home Secretary warned the House that victim compensation could rise to more than £2 billion by the end of the century. He cautioned that there was a need for radical changes to bring that cost to a more manageable limit. There is an ironic symmetry with the cost of serious drug-related crime. As has been said, £2 billion per year is the estimated cost of crime that is produced by serious drug addiction. That is the fact upon which we should base the debate and the strategies that flow from it.

I have a word of caution in the context of my experience in my area of Nottingham. I praise the police, local authorities, the health authority and the Home Office drug prevention project for their willingness to talk openly about the serious and growing problem of dependency on crack-cocaine. No one should be under any illusions about the seriousness of that drug and the rate at which problems are growing across the country. I shall give one litmus test example. We did a quick survey one weekend and identified 29 children who were involved in child prostitution. Of those 29 children, 25 were crack dependent. They all had various ways of criminally paying for their dependency.

Not only in my area but across the country it is becoming increasingly easy to find stolen goods being priced in rocks rather than in pounds. The problem of crack swept through America and the authorities were poleaxed because they did not face the issue soon enough and were not prepared for the scale of the problem. There are two lessons to be learnt from that. First, the problem must be tackled at source. When asked about how they deal with crack when it has reached the streets, the police say that it is like chasing the wind.

Crack-cocaine must be dealt with by tackling the dealerships and terminating the supply lines. Secondly, we must face the reality that, increasingly, crack—cocaine is being offered to children. If the funding for drugs education work in schools is cut, today's children will not be equipped to deal with the difficult decisions that they will be asked to make in school today and in society tomorrow. That is the stark reality of where we are heading.

We need a programme, a strategy, to address all that and it must begin with some of the initiatives set down by the Home Office drug prevention project. We need to look at acceptable programmes that will help people while they are still drugs dependent to live with that dependency. Without that we cannot move to the next stage of living without dependency. People do not get conversions on the road as if blinded by a sudden understanding. Hard graft is needed to offer people pathways back to a sane and sensible way of living.

We must tackle the way in which this country is involved on the quiet in bankrolling serious drugs crime. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, unless we tackle the supply lines of funding through the banking system for hard drugs activities, those activities will continue to grow and thrive. That is not part of the Government's strategy.

As I said, I support new clause 67. Anyone who works with drugs will say that one of the most helpful steps would be to decriminalise cannabis. Those hon. Members who warn about the slippery slope towards serious drug addiction base their arguments on nil evidence. The only serious study which suggested that cannabis was addictive was based on the study of soldiers in the American forces in the Vietnamese war. Many of them pleaded addiction as it was a ground for being sent home. No study has shown that cannabis use leads to dependency on hard drugs. There is no progression except in terms of common supply lines. One of the biggest problems confronting children, young people and adults who use cannabis is that when they try to obtain it they are more likely to be offered a hard drug first. If those supply lines can be separated, there will be an opportunity to break the continuum that brings cannabis users into close and ongoing proximity to hard drug distribution.

The use of cannabis is a pathway not to addiction but to a criminal record. If it were decriminalised, we would immediately remove the unnecessary 42,000 convictions a year for cannabis use and automatically end the fivefold increase in cautions for cannabis use. We would certainly end the number of people who are harassed because of their use of cannabis. Decriminalisation would allow the country to develop a strategy that differentiated between serious drug use and the increasingly socially acceptable use of cannabis.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Everybody agrees on the problem and the extent of it. The question is, what can best be done to solve the problem? I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—probably for the first time—when she says that we need a war against drugs.

Bearing in mind the compulsive nature of drugs and that, for the user, reason goes out of the window, the answer must be, broadly, some stick, some carrot, much less cautioning and certainly no decriminalisation.

As to the stick, the Government are to be congratulated on stiffening sentences for traffickers and on tougher fines for users. I support the Government's action, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), in raising fines from £500 to £2,500. To continue to allow fines to devalue is to send totally the wrong signal to children and youngsters and to suggest that the Government do not care. The Government care very much, as should we all, so we should support increased fines. It would also send the wrong signal to the police, who have been cautioning far too much. One suspects that one reason is that they felt that the Government and the courts did not care to have adequate penalties imposed on cannabis users.

As to the carrot, in addition to better education in schools—I am pleased that the national curriculum now includes drug education as part of health education—

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

My hon. and learned Friend is inadvertently misleading the House. Drug education is included in biology, but that is not the sort of health education that co-ordinators were providing for all children in all schools.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 8:45 pm, 28th March 1994

On the contrary, I am told that it is to be included in the national curriculum. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that. I agree with his other remarks about Home Office initiatives.

I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who said that drug users should be given some encouragement. There is not enough drug education or rehabilitation in prisons. We have been going on and on about that for the best part of 20 years. Something more must be done to encourage rehabilitation and education. New clause 62 is in the right direction, although I do not know whether the Government will accept it.

New clause 65 calls for reduced sentencing, which is probably not the best approach, although a reduction in time served through earlier parole or earlier release would be sensible. The trouble with reducing a sentence is that a promise to undertake a drug misuse course cannot be enforced: if users know that a promise of that kind will give them a statutory right to a lesser sentence, they will all make the promise, but few will deliver and the system of justice will be brought into disrepute. The advantage of earlier parole or earlier release is that the carrot would not be given until the offender had delivered his side of the bargain.

Some of the chattering classes may be in favour of decriminalisation, and also some Opposition Members, although it is difficult to know whether the Liberal Democrats are in favour or against, as with so many of their policies. However, few people in society are in favour of decriminalising cannabis, because it would inevitably lead to more youngsters using more drugs. How would the drug habit of which the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington complained be lessened if more youngsters took more drugs?

The ordinary use of cannabis is harmful, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) pointed out. Dr. Paton of Oxford university records that it may cause irreversible brain damage if used daily for two to three years. Opposition Members who leap up and down may be indicating the very problem that Dr. Paton identified. Cannabis use also leads to the use of hard drugs. The trafficker says to the cannabis user, "It does not give you as much of a buzz as heroin, cocaine or crack. Why not try them?" Whether the use of harder drugs is psychological or medical, the courts are full of cases of people who started on lesser drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines or barbiturates and moved on to hard drugs.

Another objection to decriminalisation is that it would lead to more serious crime. As the number of users and the need to supply even cannabis, amphetamines and barbiturates grew, traffickers would need to supply more.

There would be a greater demand for harder drugs, which would inevitably lead to more trafficking—and more traffickers would lead to more serious crime.

Was the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) serious when he said that an argument for decriminalising cannabis use would be the release of 42,000 people in prison for that offence? If so, that is a good argument for decriminalising burglary. We could solve large-scale crime overnight by decriminalising burglary and releasing the thousands of persons awaiting trial or imprisoned for burglary.

The Government's approach is sensible, but more money must be found for education and rehabilitation. If more money can be found for that, if for nothing else, it would be well justified.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Right hon. and hon. Members share the belief that a terrible and growing problem confronts our country. We have a choice of two paths, one of which we know to be a path of failure.

Over the past 30 years, the approach in America has been the same as that of Conservative Members. America had a war against drugs, spending $8 billion a year over the past 10 years and a similar amount before that. In 1964, 4 per cent. of young Americans were using cannabis. The latest figure shows that 75 per cent. are doing so. There is no evidence to show that illegal use of any drug throughout the world has been reduced by adopting the methods proposed by Conservative Members. Six countries have the death penalty for using cannabis, and 50 have the death penalty for heroin use.

In America, similar arguments were used about the evils of alcohol. Even in this country today, the main cause for crime is alcohol. In 1919, America's answer was to ban alcohol: the consequence was that consumption doubled and the number of people who died from alcohol poisoning quadrupled because a great deal of alcohol was manufactured in unhygienic conditions.

What is the position on drugs now? I speak as someone who hates the use of all drugs. I take none of them, and I suggest that many others should be as antagonistic to the medicinal drugs that we take in huge quantities as they are to illegal drugs. The use of illegal drugs is increasing and our policy on drugs is the main reason why crime is increasing.

If people living in my constituency on one of the estates where there is 40 per cent. unemployment wish to make some money, it is no good going on a useless job scheme as there is little chance of getting a job at the end and it is no good working for McDonald's for peanuts, but if they deal in drugs there will be a good chance of getting themselves a BMW in five years. The problem that drives the drugs trade is money: profit is what is behind the drugs trade.

Drug trafficking is the biggest industry in the world. Drugs are coming into Britain in huge quantities. We are catching at the most possibly 10 per cent. and it could be only 3 per cent. The trade is increasing because people are making huge amounts of money from it. The best way of dealing with it is to undercut the profit and the trade by decriminalising the use of cannabis and making it available in the same way as alcohol is available now, and by treating the users of hard drugs as patients.

We must treat hard drug addicts as patients because there is virtually no chance of getting them off their drugs when they have to steal up to £2,000 of goods a week. If their habit costs £500 a week, as it does in Bristol, they have to steal that money. They are full-time criminals. Drug addicts take the drugs in unhygienic surroundings and using unhygienic needles. The number of people who die from heroin every year is 100. The number of people who die from using cannabis is zero. The number of people who die from taking paracetamol is 300, from other medicinal drugs 2,000, from alcohol 25,000, and from smoking cigarettes 110,000. Yet as a society we spend £100 million persuading our children to use tobacco but gaol them for using cannabis.

Do Conservative Members know why cannabis was banned? I speak as a chemist. Many substances are far more dangerous than cannabis. I would not encourage anyone to use cannabis or any of the other substances that are available. The reason why cannabis is a banned substance is that the head of a lunatic asylum in Alexandria once went to a conference and said that cannabis made people insane. His reason was that all his in-patients were taking it. He did not mention that everyone outside in the community was taking it as well. Since that day, no one has suggested that cannabis makes people insane.

Several other substances which are freely available could have been banned. The really lethal substances, which I would be horrified if any of my children used, are freely available in chemist's shops, supermarkets and stationery shops. The glues and other substances that they sniff—things that we have in our offices—could kill youngsters. The great worry with cannabis is that it is usually mixed with tobacco. Many members of a generation in the 1960s in Britain and in America used cannabis mixed with tobacco. Now, not one in 100 of that generation still uses cannabis, but a third of them still use tobacco and in many cases it will kill them.

We know what popular opinion is. What Opposition Members are proposing will not gain us any votes. I appeal to the Government. We know that their policy is the wrong one. It will lead to more crime because people will need more money for drugs and they will need to commit more crime to get that money. The Government's policy of increasing the fine for cannabis will result in only one thing: the cannabis user will have to commit more crime to feed his or her addiction. Unless we implement a policy of decriminalisation, undercut the market for cannabis and treat the hard-drug addicts as patients, the problem will get far worse. We shall end up in the position that America is in. Every one of our cities will be divided into areas, with drug users defending their areas with guns. That is the future unless the Government see sense.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell , Blyth Valley

We are all aware that drugs are a serious problem in Britain and especially in the north-east of England. It was said not so long ago that in the north-east drugs were the third largest industry, after Nissan.

In my constituency in the past five years, five young people aged between 16 and 19 have lost their lives through taking drugs. The drugs that they took could be bought in the chemist. Unfortunately for some of them, they were not aware of what drugs they were taking and their effects. They took a cocktail of drugs such as temazepam, barbiturates and heroin. They clogged their systems up, went into a coma and died. It is a shame that the four young girls and one young boy who died were not in the real world. They did not understand what the drugs meant to them, but the pushers did. The pushers were ordinary people living in the community of Blyth Valley. They were selling to the young kids so that they could get money to buy more drugs to feed their own habit. So there was a chain reaction of drugs in the community.

Unfortunately, Blyth Valley has become one of the biggest drug centres in the north-east. I take my hat off to the local police, who have made 28 raids in the past two or three days. When the police entered the house of one known drug dealer, they found 20 stolen televisions, 14 video recorders and a big swag of jewellery. If that does not tell us anything, what will? The drug dealers get the kids to go out and steal and burgle. Burglaries are on the increase in Blyth Valley. The kids bring the swag and get dope for it. The drugs are not only heroin. Some are from chemists. We must persuade chemists to put drugs under lock and key. We must get a grip on temazepam and wobbly eggs—they all have fancy names—before they get a grip on our people.

I take this opportunity to praise the Newcastle Journal, my regional newspaper, which has agreed to fund a poster campaign in Blyth Valley. It will print the poster for us and I shall distribute it in the area and especially in the schools. We must get across to young people the dangers of drugs. We must talk to them about drugs. It will always be difficult because if we talk to them, we tell them what drugs are. As one headmaster said to me, "What do I do, Ronnie? Do I tell them to take only a little bit of this drug or not to take it with that drug?" The young people who died took a cocktail of drugs. That is the problem. If we educate the kids, they become aware of drugs. Once they are aware of drugs, they will say, "I'll have a bash at it. I'll try a little bit of this or a little bit of that." That is the problem.

We must find the appropriate level and more money must be poured into the system. I do not know whether the new clause will achieve that, but I will support any amendment to the legislation that will help these young kids. Evil drug pushers are getting them hooked on drugs and making a fortune.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I shall reply as briefly as I can to what has been a wide-ranging debate.

I assume that the intention of new clause 64, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), is to place a statutory duty on the Prison Service to provide drug treatment and rehabilitation programmes. There are problems with the drafting, but, in any event, prison governors are already expected to provide a cohesive response to the needs of inmates with drug problems. Guidance on that is contained in a Prison Service circular instruction and in a resource manual issued to all prisons in 1991, entitled "Caring for Drug Misusers: a Multi-disciplinary Resource for People working with Prisoners".

The Prison Service is reviewing that guidance, with the aim of developing an improved strategy for tackling drug misuse in our prisons. In Scotland, various prisons have developed specific programmes to meet the needs of particular groups of prisoners. A guidance manual setting out best practice for the management of prisoners who misuse drugs was issued in March: the aim is to help all prisoners to develop and maintain a drug-free life style. I, therefore, see no advantage in legislating to introduce a duty when the Prison Service is already providing an appropriate response. We heard about that from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone); excellent work is also being done at Downview prison.

9 pm

As for new clause 65, I listened to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam for requiring sentencers to take into account an offender's willingness to participate in a treatment programme when sentencing an offender whose drug habit has contributed to his offending behaviour. I agree whole-heartedly that it is important to deal with criminal activity that is drug related, but I do not believe that the new clause would usefully add to the court's existing powers to deal with such offending behaviour.

The sentencing framework introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1991 requires sentences passed by the courts to be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence committed by the offender. A custodial sentence may be passed only if an offence is "so serious" that no other sentence is justified; a community penalty may be imposed only if the offence is "serious enough" to merit it. When a court considers that an offence is not "so serious" that only a custodial penalty is justified, but is "serious enough" to merit a community sentence, the court must ensure that the order or orders that it makes are the most suitable for the offender. In doing so, it may take into account any information about the offender that is before it.

Attendance at programmes dealing with, for instance, drug or alcohol dependency may be included in a probation order, either voluntarily—as part of supervision under the order—or as a mandatory requirement of the order. Under the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973, when a court is proposing to make a probation order and an offender is dependent on drugs or alcohol, the dependency caused or contributed to the commission of the offence and the dependency requires and is susceptible to treatment, the court may include in the order a requirement that the offender submit to treatment by a suitable qualified or experienced person with a view to reducing or eliminating the dependency. A community care assessment or psychiatric report will usually be a prerequisite in such cases.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

I take on board what my hon. Friend has said. The crunch is this, however: is the Home Office prepared to devote more resources to voluntary agencies such as the Addictive Diseases Trust, which have a proven track record of success?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

The Home Office is devoting considerable resources not only to programmes in the Prison Service, but to programmes in the voluntary sector. I shall explain that shortly, when I deal with the Opposition amendments.

Voluntary attendance on a programme may be part of the supervision plan drawn up for a "straight" probation order. The draft revised national standard for pre-sentence reports proposes that when the report writer makes a proposal that envisages a probation order, supervision order or combination order, the report should annex an outline of the supervision plan proposed for the offender to assist the court in its sentencing decision. It should contain a description of the purposes and desired outcome of the proposed sentence; a timetable with key milestones; the methods to be used and activities to be undertaken; the intensity of supervision envisaged; and the likely effect on dependants.

In the case of an offender with a history of drug misuse, the proposed supervision plan—to which the offender must consent—could therefore include voluntary attendance at a drug rehabilitation programme as an integral part of the plan. The full reasons behind the suggestion must be set out in the main body of the report. In both cases—whether the attendance is voluntary or included in the supervision plan, or mandatory—it is an integral part of the sentence, and forms an element of the restriction of liberty imposed by that sentence.

When an offender subsequently refuses to co-operate with the terms of a probation order, that offender will be regarded as having breached the order, and may be returned to court. In the most serious cases, the court may decide to re-sentence the offender for the original offence, while taking into account the extent to which the offender has complied with the order. Where the breach appears to the court to be a withdrawal of consent to the community penalty a custodial sentence may result. It would, therefore, seem unnecessary to create a new offence to deal with the problem.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that it would be appropriate, as I think my hon. Friend has suggested, that completing a drug rehabilitation programme but failing to be rehabilitated by it should of itself constitute breach of an order. Treatment programmes can achieve excellent results, but there is no guarantee of success in individual cases. Finally, as the courts already possess a discretion to pass sentences that will be particularly suitable for offenders with a drug habit, I am not convinced that the new clause would serve a useful purpose.

I turn now to new clauses 51 and 52, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). My hon. Friend seeks to increase very significantly the penalties for the drug offences dealt with in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The House will be relieved to know that I do not intend to go through my hon. Friend's proposals paragraph by paragraph. I merely say that, taken in the context of the sentencing framework as a whole, the current maximum penalties available for drug offences are sufficient to enable the courts to respond effectively and flexibly to the wide range of cases that come before them and to reflect the very different types of offences and offenders. I do not accept that the courts require the additional powers suggested by my hon. Friend.

Similarly, I cannot agree that it would be appropriate for most drug offences, including, for example, the cultivation of a cannabis plant, to be triable on indictment only. I share my hon. Friend's concerns about drug offences and the need to take them seriously. However, I believe that the current arrangements are satisfactory and give courts the freedom to pass appropriate sentences in all cases, including the power to pass tough sentences in most cases. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will agree not to press his new clauses.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Would my hon. Friend care to put on the record the Government's view of deterrence?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I shall certainly do so. I take the view that all sentences should contain an element of punishment, an element of deterrence and an element of rehabilitation. That is the only means of having sentences that are just in the round.

As for the Opposition's new clauses 4 and 5, drugs education and drugs prevention are important and well-established elements of the Government's strategy for tackling drug misuse. They must, however, be integrated with the other elements of our strategy, which, apart from providing adequate treatment services, allow for vigorous enforcement action against drug traffickers and provide the courts with high maximum penalties to deter drug traffickers and dealers.

The co-operation between local authorities, police and other agencies and communities to which new clause 4 refers is already an increasingly common feature of local initiatives to tackle drug misuse. Clearly, the local authority needs to get together with all other local agencies with an interest in drugs prevention to agree a combined strategy. But local response to drugs problems must take account of local circumstances. A multi-agency programme needs, therefore, to be responsive to changing needs and patterns. The right approach, I suggest, is through a proper blend of encouragement and guidance, not through the creation of additional statutory duties for a single agency.

The Government's strategic framework for tackling drug misuse has been in place since the mid-1980s. It involves simultaneous action on a number of fronts, which, in view of the Opposition's criticism that there is no coherent strategy, I shall lay before the House. We do have a coherent strategy, of which educating our children on the dangers of drugs misuse is a vital element. The national curriculum requires schools to teach aspects of health education, including aspects of drug misuse.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell , Blyth Valley

As I have pointed out, five young people in my constituency have lost their lives in the past two years. What is the Minister's policy to prevent such deaths?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I resent the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Of course we are appalled at any loss of life resulting from drug misuse. It is very clear that, without the comprehensive, coherent strategy that we have had for the past few years—without all the efforts to crack down on drugs coming into the country and on misuse in the country and to educate youngsters in the avoidance of drugs—the hon. Gentleman would not be holding up just five fingers. Indeed, the number of deaths would be so much greater that he would need to hold up five fingers a hundred times over.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

No, I shall not give way now because the House wants to make progress. I shall give way in a moment.

The Government are committed to ensuring, through the national curriculum and in other ways, that schools continue to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and attitude that they need to promote their immediate and long-term good health. Education has been backed by anti-drugs publicity. Since 1985, the Department of Health has spent increasing amounts on national drug prevention, information and public education campaigns. In 1993–94, some £5 million has been spent and independent evaluation has shown that the campaigns have succeeded in raising awareness of the problem.

There have also been innovative developments in drug prevention. The drugs prevention initiative was launched in 1989 as a partnership between Government and the community to promote the prevention of drug misuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes paid tribute to it. Teams are now operating in 20 locations to mobilise local communities to stop young people and others at risk taking drugs and help them realise the harmful consequences. Many successful schemes are in place and the initiative has been involved in the funding of more than 900 projects.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

If the programme has been so successful, why is it that, after 15 years of this policy, there is illegal drug use in 90 per cent. of our prisons? If we cannot keep drug misuse out of our prisons, how can we hope to keep it out of our schools, pubs and clubs if we continue with the Government's crazy policies?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Drug use is endemic in western Europe and the United States. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will support the proposals in the Bill to stop drug misuse in prisons through the searching of prisoners and proper drug testing in prisons. I shall welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for that policy, but that is only one plank of our policy to deal with all aspects of drug misuse.

The collective experience of the work of the 20 drug prevention initiative teams in local communities is being pulled together and co-ordinated. It will provide valuable information about the approaches that can be effective in drugs prevention and about the factors that influence their effectiveness, on which we shall base future action. In addition to all those measures for reducing the demand for drugs, we are putting considerable effort into reducing the supply and demand through effective enforcement action.

Police and customs continue to work hard to reduce the supply of drugs coming into the country, with notable success. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) pronounced on many seizures at the beginning of his speech. He referred to the success of customs and the police under this Government in tracking down illegal drugs entering the country. We have made tough penalties available to the courts for use against drug traffickers, including up to life imprisonment for dealing in drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The United Kingdom's laws for getting at the profits of the big guys behind drug smuggling are among the toughest in the world. I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) will welcome that.

The legislation that we introduced in 1986 enables the courts to deprive drug traffickers of their ill-gotten gains and makes the laundering of drugs money a criminal offence. The legislation has been strengthened by the Criminal Justice Act 1993 and, by the end of the 1992, we estimated that we had confiscated more than £42 million of drug traffickers' proceeds. All those factors come together in a comprehensive anti-drugs strategy involving Departments spending more than £500 million a year in the war against drugs.

We recognise the need, however, to review the strategy and to ensure that the policies that we are pursuing are correctly identified and are co-ordinated effectively. To that end, we have announced the establishment of a central drugs co-ordination unit. One of the unit's main tasks is to work closely with Departments to ensure that drugs policies are planned, developed and implemented within a clear strategic framework.

The unit's immediate task is to review our strategy on drugs and make recommendations for its continuing improvement. It will certainly not hesitate to say if it believes that greater attention needs to be paid to drugs education and prevention. A statement of our strategy will be published in due course. It will cover all drug policies, not just drug prevention, and will present a comprehensive and co-ordinated response to the problem. It will start by building on our successes—our successes in the drug prevention initiative, our successes in the safer cities programme, our successes in education, our successes in the work of the police in cracking down on illegal misuse, our successes based on Customs and Excise seizures, and our successes with other initiatives, such as that in King's Cross, mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, all of which are happening in the police force under the tenure of the Government.

9.15 pm

Finally, I shall say a few words about the proposal of the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Banks) to decriminalise the supply of cannabis. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. I will not go into detail about the proposal that he has laid before the House, as many of my hon. Friends have effectively demolished it. The Government have no intention of legalising or decriminalising any currently banned drug and we believe that we have overwhelming public support for that view.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I understand that the Minister will not address the arguments, but will he give one assurance to the House—that he has never used cannabis in any form at all? Will he ask the Home Secretary to give that pledge also?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Yes, I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. If we are talking about personal use, I can give him that assurance. I have never used it in my life and I can assure him that I did not try it or inhale it. I have never tried it—[Interruption.] I shall tell him why. It was mainly because I thought that some of people whom I saw using it at university were pretty inadequate, weedy souls. [Interruption.] Those of us who participated in the Territorial Army were not, and we are better for it.

A recent survey of drugs usage and attitudes to drugs of a sample of more than 4,000 people in four cities confirmed that most—66 per cent.—believe that all drugs currently prohibited should remain illegal and less than 8 per cent. thought that some drugs, such as cannabis, should not be controlled. In a recent radio interview, the Commissioner of the Mepropolitan police, Paul Ckndon, was also against the legalisation of cannabis. It is against every international conference and rule on drugs that the United Kingdom and the United Nations have signed.

I know that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West at one point complained that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was appealing to the grass roots. I do not think that he realised what he was suggesting. My right hon. and learned Friend is not appealing to the grass roots in increasing the penalties for class B and class C drugs. He is appealing to plain, simple common sense. Decriminalising drugs is a defeatist step. It sends the wrong message to society, especially to the young, that some drugs are not harmful. That is dangerous. It has no place in our thinking and I reject the Opposition amendments.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

That was not so much a speech as a self-indulgent rant and it did not do justice to the debate or to the subject. The police, local authorities, customs and many others are trying to develop coherent policies for the problem of the scourge of drugs and drug-related crime and only the Government are incoherent in undermining the very prevention the Minister has purported to advocate. It was a sad and unhelpful response. British society, individuals, families and communities cannot afford the Government's short-sighted and self-indulgent response.

It is a disappointment that the Minister has failed to accept our constructive proposals to tackle drugs and drug-related crime. From the Minister's complacent response, it is clear that he will not accept our new clauses. He will clearly not act. In view of the importance of other debates tonight and of other debates on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which, in many ways, will touch on the same topics to which we shall want to return, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.