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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:21 am on 25th February 2005.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 11:21 am, 25th February 2005

I absolutely understand it, and I thank the hon. Lady for patronising me. The point of clause 1 of the Drugs Bill is to protect children, not to protect school buildings. In order to achieve that, we have ensured that the provision connects the aggravation of the offence for sentencing purposes to the times that children are likely to be at or near the school. We have not limited the times to when teaching is actually taking place: we have provided a window either side of such times when children may be around. I have not been made aware of any evidence that children hang around near schools when teaching has finished for the day. If such compelling evidence existed, it would have been discussed in the debate on clause 1, but it was not.

The Drugs Bill will make using a child or a young person as a courier in a drugs transaction an aggravating factor that courts must take into account. The Bill will also close loopholes exploited by dealers by imposing an evidential presumption on them. That change will have a powerful effect, because dealers will be charged with a supply offence if found in possession of a quantity of drugs over a certain threshold. It will allow courts to draw such inferences as are appropriate from an unreasonable refusal to consent to an intimate search, X-ray or ultrasound scan designed to detect concealed drugs. In that way, we will substantially increase the power of courts to deal effectively with the actions of dealers that so damage young people.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's Bill proposes a commission of inquiry, but I suggest that the proposal is unnecessary. At present, the Government take their advice on such matters from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is an independent non-departmental public body. The establishment of the proposed commission would in many ways replicate the existing procedures and undermine the authority of the ACMD. We believe that such matters should be dealt with objectively and considered by the best experts in the field.

In March 2002, the ACMD produced its report, "The classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971", which detailed the physical and mental health risks of taking cannabis. On the basis of the recommendations contained in that report, the Government reclassified cannabis from class B to class C.