Orders of the Day — Drugs (Sentencing and Commission of Inquiry) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:44 am on 25th February 2005.

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Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 9:44 am, 25th February 2005

I agree. I can see that Mr. Pound, who is sensible in most things, could almost be attracted to sitting on the Opposition Benches. Even if he does not come here now, he will certainly be sitting here after May. It is only a matter of time.

I welcome the approach to drug education of schools in my constituency, such as Clitheroe royal grammar school. Their aim is to enable pupils to make informed choices and to make up their own minds to reject drugs by increasing their knowledge, challenging attitudes and developing and practising skills. That is done by providing accurate information about drugs, increasing understanding about the implications and possible consequences of use and misuse and promoting a greater awareness of personal and social attitudes to substances.

The "Talk to Frank" website, which is sponsored by the Government, is imparting sensible information to youngsters and there is a 24-hour helpline. I think that the address is talktofrank.com, and I hope that not only youngsters who are worried about their own drug use, but those who are worried about their friends using drugs, will access the site. I hope that youngsters will use the helpline to get information on how to tackle the problem of dealing with friends who are taking drugs.

Although the percentage of children who use hard drugs is small, we must enact safeguards to protect them from the temptation that awaits outside the school grounds. We must also look outside schools to protect younger people in our society from the pervasive presence of drugs. Approximately 1 million children play truant, 100,000 children are temporarily excluded from school and 13,000 children are permanently excluded. The antisocial behaviour that leads to truancy and exclusions is part of the slippery slope on to drugs that we must try to curb through legislation.

Surveys show that truants and school excludees engage in high levels of poly-drug use, with cannabis, solvents, poppers and amphetamines featuring strongly. Heroin use, which is negligible among school attendees, affects 2 per cent. of truants and excludees on a lifetime basis. The level of consumption of any class A drug once a month during the past year is significantly higher for excludees than for those who routinely attend school. Other research into drug use by school age young people highlights a similar pattern of experimentation, with cannabis use most prominent, followed by the use of amphetamines, solvents, magic mushrooms and poppers.

The links between drug use and criminal activity are well established and acknowledged. For young people living on the streets, lifetime use of the more harmful drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, crack, tranquilisers, steroids, solvents and hallucinogens, is high—four to 10 times higher than for those minors who have never been homeless. For that section of our youth, who are so often the forgotten minority, to be a habitual drug user is a life sentence. Not only must those young people drag themselves off the streets and face the problems that put them there, but they must stop the cycle of desperation that led them to, and keeps them on, drugs. Indeed, there is evidence that drug use in later life is far more likely among runaways and the homeless than among minors who remain under a roof for that period. My Bill will make all drug pushers think twice about whether they want to risk their futures and continue dealing to our youth.

I hope that we all agree that cannabis is a dangerous drug. It is easy for members of the public to forget that cannabis is still dangerous. The Government reclassified cannabis from class B to class C on 29 January last year throughout the United Kingdom.