Drugs Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:51 am on 9th November 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:51 am, 9th November 2001

I agree. Public opinion is clearly ahead of Parliament on the cannabis issue, and the credibility of politics is losing out because we are less and less in tune. Ms King pointed out that she was the youngest Member of the House. One of the problems is that we are not a balanced Parliament in terms of age. We do not have lots of young people helping in the formal process of policy making. It is therefore even more important that we listen to what they say.

One of the reasons why young people do not vote is that they increasingly think, that we do not understand at all what goes on in their lives. We can change the form of voting and enable people to vote by post or by telephone, but if they do not hear a debate that reflects the reality of a Friday night or a Saturday night on the Old Kent road or in the middle of Manchester, we are not likely to win their respect, their confidence or their participation in the democratic process.

I agree that we must take account of the opinion poll evidence on the cannabis issue, which is clear. There is much other creditable recent evidence, including the two important reports of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Psychiatrists, and the Police Foundation inquiry, now a year and a half old, chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman. A report was published this week by the former chief constable of Gwent, which makes it clear that someone who was a senior police officer believes that the way in which we deal with heroin use has been entirely unhelpful, and that we need to give people legal access to a place where they can go openly and have heroin prescribed, to get them away from the sordid backstreet operation through which that drug has been obtained in the past.

I make a further potentially controversial point, which does not assume a particular opinion on the issue. Parliament came to a view 30 years ago that we had to legalise abortion, not because everyone thought that that was morally right, but because unless we did so, we were perpetuating the sequence through the generations and condemning women who did not want to go through with the birth to being at the hands of the racketeers, the exploiters and those who were not validated as professionally competent.

There is a parallel with drugs. As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, we condemn many young people to going to traffickers, dealers, exploiters and pedlars who are not interested in their future. They want only money and reward for their activities, although the result, one, two or three years later, may be pain, suffering and death for those young people. I hope that we establish a policy in this Parliament that breaks the link between the young person who experiments with drugs simply because young people experiment and those who make money, irrespective of young people's interests.