Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 22nd October 2001.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government keep the misuse of drugs legislation under continual review.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

After 30 years of the harshest prohibition of drugs in Europe, this country has the worst drugs problem in the continent and the position continues to deteriorate. Other countries have reduced harm by policies of regulated, licensed decriminalisation.

Will my hon. Friend kill the myth that the present conflict will reduce the flow of heroin into this country? Does he agree with the United Nations that the Taliban have replaced almost all of their drugs crops with wheat, and that 80 per cent. of the heroin produced in Afghanistan is now made by our partners in the Northern Alliance? When one source dries up another fills its place.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend will know that the overwhelming majority of heroin coming into this country comes from Afghanistan. It does not come from the area controlled by the Northern Alliance: it comes from the entire area of Afghanistan. The cultivation ofthose crops increased considerably when the Taliban Government came to power. Despite the fact that they took the decision not to produce heroin, there are massive stockpiles in Afghanistan, and there is no discernible impact on the supply to this country of any temporary disruption of cultivation. Therefore one wonders what their motivation was for that policy.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport

Bearing in mind that more than half of our young people have experimented with drugs at some point, and that the police have responded by not enforcing the law in all its severity, is there not scope for a wide-ranging inquiry, perhaps on the lines of a royal commission?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has called for an adult debate, and has rightly emphasised the need to consider carefully all the implications of any change in our drugs law. The potential for increasing usage is one of the issues that would have to be picked up in that debate. It is a challenge for those who advocate legalisation—one to which they rarely rise.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the comments made at the conference of probation officers last week. In the light of those remarks, of what is happening in other countries throughout Europe and of the recommendations in Lady Runciman's report, and bearing in mind what the Metropolitan police are doing in Brixton, why are the Government so resistant to reconsidering the law regarding cannabis?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If my hon. Friend had listened to my previous answer, he would have heard me say that my right hon. Friend wants an adult debate. If he properly examines the policies in many other countries, he will discover that the apparent discrepancies are often not as wide as they are believed to be. In many countries there is a convergence that involves the disruption of the supply of drugs and measures—such as harm reduction and education—to try to tackle these issues.