Drug Abuse

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 2 July 2001.

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Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not in favour of royal commissions and never have been. They are a way of putting off decisions that should be taken by those who carry responsibility for them. However, as my hon. Friend Beverley Hughes said in answering Question 6, we are of course prepared to update and respond to information and advice, including that from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in developing the 10-year drug strategy.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Does he not think that, halfway through the 10-year strategy, this is an appropriate time to stand back and examine the effectiveness of the current drug policy? The most recent independent inquiry was conducted18 months ago by the Police Foundation, and some of the proposals that are now being implemented in Lambeth were recommended in that report by Ruth Runciman. Those recommendations have only now been accepted by the Government.

The circumstances surrounding the issue are changing almost daily. Last month, for example, The Guardian published a compelling series of articles by Nick Davies on the ineffectiveness of the Government's strategy. The Secretary of State may not be prepared to have a royal commission, but does he accept the need for an adult and open forum for discussion so that we can consider some of the consequences of this terrible scourge, including drug/crime links and better treatment for addicts?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that there is room for an adult and sensible debate that has, as a common cause, the need to deal with the misuse of class A drugs, which bring misery to individuals, families and the wider community. The fact is that 30 per cent. of those who are arrested are found to have taken heroin or crack cocaine. In some parts of the country, the situation is desperate for the families involved. We all need to discuss the issues openly and sensibly, without blunt questions such as "yes or no: are you or are you not?", so that we can have sensible answers that respond to the public need.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

The trials for the medicinal use of cannabis have now entered their third phase, which suggests to me that it is highly likely that evidence will be available shortly that cannabis has medicinal properties. If that is proved to be the case later this year, will it lead to a reclassification of the substance?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is a difference between the classification of the substance and the use of the residue in terms of medical application. I shall be interested to see the evidence as soon as possible on the latter point, and to deal with it accordingly.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I agree with the Home Secretary that royal commissions are just a way of playing issues into the long grass—appropriate, perhaps, for cannabis. Does the Home Secretary accept that the issue is becoming urgent? When statutes and penalties that are on the statute book are not being applied on the streets, that brings the law, the police force and, ultimately, this place into disrepute. Should not these matters be brought into line sooner rather than later?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I liked the joke. I noticed in an article in a newspaper for which I normally have a great deal of time that what is an experiment has been dubbed "chaotic policy". We need to monitor, and we need the police to use discretion without there being a feeling that the whole policy is unravelling. That is part of a sane and sensible debate. Credibility in terms of prioritisation of the use of police time and resources has to be applied on the ground, and it is, day in, day out; not just in terms of wider substance abuse, but in the way in which local communities are policed. Since taking office, I have heard cries that, on the one hand, we should allow the police discretion and, on the other, that any discretion would somehow dismantle the overall policy.