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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:22 am on 25th February 2005.

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Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs 10:22 am, 25th February 2005

If I get the opportunity again to be a Member of Parliament and apply in those ballots, I shall be right behind the hon. Gentleman when he puts his name down.

I take a special interest in the subject of our debate because, before I entered the House of Commons, I was a registered nurse and I often cared for people who had to be admitted to hospital for a range of diseases and conditions that resulted from drug taking. Having spent a lot of time with those who were sadly addicted to substances, I firmly believed that it was a complex matter that could not be tackled with simplistic responses. Soon after being elected, I became and continue to be one of the vice-chairs of the all-party group on drugs. We have done much work on considering the problems of addiction.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley raised some interesting issues. However, his proposed response is too simplistic and does not get under the skin of the problem of substance misuse. I should like to explain why I believe that.

We all use statistics and statements from groups to support our aims and objectives and leave out the less supportive statistics. I should like to say a little about those whose reaction to the reclassification of cannabis is more favourable. I repeat "reclassification"—I am against any legalisation of drugs. The evidence about not only the physical but the psychological effects of cannabis on people is serious and we should not take it lightly. However, I am in favour of reclassification. The Bill is centred on setting up an organisation effectively to support the hon. Gentleman's view that cannabis should not have been reclassified, but I believe that it is important to decouple cannabis from the most serious, class A drugs that regularly kill people.

I take a close interest in my drug and alcohol team in West Sussex. It happens to be one of the best in the country because it is always considering how to get information to young people and ensuring that they understand what it is all about. After reclassification, we were all a little nervous about whether it would promote use among young people because they did not understand that cannabis remained an illegal drug. Of course, that did not happen. The Government's work after their £1 million campaign, in which the drug and alcohol teams participated, showed that 93 per cent. of young people completely understood that cannabis remained an illegal drug. They might have continued to take it, but they understood its classification.

We must consider, therefore, why young people continue to use the drug. After all the years of trying to get under the skin of those who use illegal drugs, we continue to struggle to find solutions, including penalising methods and encouraging people away from use. I took on board the hon. Gentleman's statement about Robbie Williams. We all find it shocking that he was worried simply about getting fat and ugly. I think that he is a bit of all right, so I can understand why getting fat and ugly was a problem for him. However, we are finding that, strangely, young people respond more to messages about body image than to those that say, "You're going to die if you take this." The same applies to smoking. If we tell young women that they will have horrible wrinkles and a saggy bottom by the time they are 40, they start to think about their cigarette smoking. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's anecdote about Robbie Williams was not as damaging as he suggested, but I understand his concern.

The hon. Gentleman clearly set out two aspects of the Bill. The first element is a "three strikes and you're out" campaign on dealing. We all despise those who make money from the awful trade, out of which it is sadly all too easy to make money. However, I have found that dealing is a complex matter. The dealers with whom I have had most contact in my community—not to buy, of course—are also users. That makes the issue more complex. I hope that I do not appear to be some woolly libertarian who does not take such matters seriously. I am genuinely trying to explain that simply taking punitive measures against dealers does not work. That is why I support doing everything that we can—and everything that the Government are doing—to provide treatment, help and support to users, especially of class A drugs. That is how we encourage people to give up drug taking, so that they no longer have to make money to support their drug use. This is a difficult issue and a simple style of sentencing will not easily make it any better, which is why I am suspicious of that approach. This is not the first time that such an approach has been proposed. Before the 1997 general election, a Bill that was not enacted put forward a similar proposal.