Criminal Law

Part of Theft from Shops (Use of Penalty Notices for Disorder) – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 5:45 pm, 11th March 2009

From the information that has come to me. No, we have not taken evidence on this, which is why it is important that we look at this issue in the inquiry we are about to start, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that we will. Obviously, the Government take slightly longer than a Select Committee to commission reports and then review them and conclude, but we will look into the issue, and it is to be hoped that we will have the evidence he seeks. If PNDs are not effective, he can be clear that, with Members such as the hon. Member for Monmouth sitting on the Committee, the report will not be agreed by the Committee. We will certainly look at penalties.

I also want to discuss the effectiveness not of Government policy, but of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to Professor Nutt. It was Professor Nutt who said recently that there was not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy, and it was Professor Nutt and his council who said that cannabis should be downgraded from class B to class C. The body is called the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and it only advises the Home Secretary, and it is right that, in the end, the Home Secretary and politicians, who are accountable to this House, should make the final decision. The Home Secretary needs to have a few words with the chairman of the advisory council. First, she needs to put him right on his statement, although I think that he has made some subsequent comments about it. At the end of the day, it must be for the Home Secretary to decide on these matters and for the Government to send out an appropriate message.

If the Opposition vote to annul this order, they will be sending out the wrong message to the public—that this House does not treat the issue seriously enough. In accepting penalty notices for disorder and talking about the need for more research, and with the increase in the amount of skunk available on the streets of our capital city and other cities, the Government need to send out the message that it is vital that we continue with the Home Secretary's tough line on drugs. We must continue to ensure, even if the advice is against us, that if the Home Secretary and the Government feel that it is important to reclassify this drug, that is what we should do. It is what we have done and we should ensure that we monitor the process so that those who mistakenly believe that in some way taking drugs is acceptable social practice—whether they are celebrities or whoever else—understand that this House will be very serious about the way in which it deals with this real and difficult problem.

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