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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:51 am on 25th February 2005.

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Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Shadow Minister, Transport 10:51 am, 25th February 2005

I think that the record will show that I said that the number of people in prison for drug offences was on the increase. I was talking about the recent explosion in the prison population. I am happy to stand by the statistics quoted by the hon. Lady, which demonstrate that a huge number of people are being sent to prison for drug-related offences.

The focus should be on dealers and traffickers, not just on users. As has been said before, if we say—rightly—that we want a tougher approach to drugs, logically we should suggest banning and criminalising alcohol and tobacco, which surely have more harmful effects on society than any other drug group. I would not advocate that, but it is a logical progression. In focusing narrowly on one drug whose effects are minimal, although I accept that they may be harmful—more research is needed—we are wasting an opportunity, and also wasting resources that could allow the police to concentrate on class A drugs. Two or three years ago, the Lambeth project established that, over six months, about three police officers could use resources to focus on hard drugs after they stopped focusing on cannabis. If that were extended throughout the country, it could have a significant effect on the fight against the real hard drugs that do the damage.

Every pound spent on treatment saves £3 in costs to the criminal justice system. If the illegal drug structure is dismantled, there will be less street dealing, fewer robberies and less gun crime. The Liberal Democrats supported the reclassification of cannabis from class B to class C. Although we acknowledge that cannabis may have certain effects, it is clear that the police should target what is really important. We want a tough approach. For instance, we want to create a new offence of dealing and thereby target the pushers. We want a new offence of dealing near schools to protect children, and an offence of pushing drugs near mental health institutions containing some of the most vulnerable people in society. Prevention is always better than cure. We want a greater emphasis on how resources are used, and we want more help for those who are addicted. They should not simply be punished—we want them to stop reoffending, get on with their lives and improve the quality of their lives.