I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is with great pleasure that I present the Bill to the House. The use of drugs in this country has reached crisis levels in parts of our society and it affects us all, whether directly, through family members who are caught in the cycle of addiction, or indirectly, through crime that is fuelled by people's need to buy more drugs. All that is going on against the background of a Government who have sent all the wrong signals on drugs. The reclassification of drugs such as cannabis has sent those wrong signals throughout the country and many people now believe that it is safe to use cannabis. The aim of the Bill is to redress those problems, to give more powers to the police and the courts to combat our drug culture, and to look into the effects of cannabis so that the Government can see that the drug that they have gone soft on is actually quite dangerous and harmful.
To summarise for my right hon. and hon. Friends, my Bill has three main strands, which I will consider individually: the use of a mandatory seven-year jail sentence if a dealer is caught selling class A drugs for the third time, the use of a custodial sentence for any adult convicted of selling class A drugs to a minor for profit, and the establishment of an independent commission to look into the effects of cannabis and to make recommendations to the Government on its classification.
Penalties for drug selling are rightly very harsh. Some 85 per cent. of all drug offenders are convicted of unlawful possession, but, although maximum penalties are severe, most offences are dealt with by fines and nearly three quarters of those fines are less than £50. The state of the drug problem in the United Kingdom has shocked me as I have looked into it. In 2002, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its landmark report on drugs in the United Kingdom, "The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?", found that drugs are easily available. About 4 million people use at least one illegal drug each year and about 1 million people use class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine or ecstasy.
The cost of those illegal drugs has plummeted in recent years, which has made it even easier for people to get their hands on them. The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit reported that the cost of drugs is at its lowest level for a decade. It highlights that, in 1995, heroin cost £80 a gram and that it now costs £35 a gram. That trend also applies to cocaine, which used to cost £56 a gram in 1995, but now costs £45 a gram. A newspaper recently reported that a line of cocaine is now the same price as a cup of coffee bought from Starbucks. That probably says more about the price of cocaine than about the price of coffee at Starbucks.
The trafficking of drugs into the United Kingdom has also continued to increase in recent years because organised criminals and gangs are making huge profits at all the stages of getting drugs into the country. The last figures available show that the number of people arrested for trafficking cocaine has doubled. There has also been a large rise in the number of arrests for cannabis and crack cocaine trafficking, so we have a huge problem in our country and on our streets. Cannabis use has risen by more than a third, ecstasy use has doubled and cocaine use has risen by 250 per cent. over the past eight years.
Evidence clearly shows the amount that drug use has gone up in the past three decades. In 1969, 4 per cent. of people used amphetamines, 2 per cent. used cannabis and less than 0.5 per cent. used other drugs. The British crime survey reported in 2002–03 that a third of 16 to 59-year-olds had tried drugs at least once in their lifetime. It also reports that cannabis is the most frequently used drug in all age groups. About 3 million 16 to 59-year-olds have used cannabis in the past year, with a quarter—about 1.5 million—of 16 to 24-year-olds admitting to using it in the past year.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported in November 2003 that Britain had the highest use of cocaine in Europe, with 7 per cent. of 15 to 24-year-olds admitting to using it recently. Deaths owing to drugs have risen sharply in recent years, too. In 2002, there were 2,685 drug-related deaths in England and Wales—an increase of 19 per cent. compared with the number of such deaths in 1993. That represents 5.1 drug-related deaths per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales.
An obvious side effect for us all in the war against drugs is the effect that the rise in drug use has on drug-related crime. According to my right hon. Friend David Davis in his speech to the House on