Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Amendment made: 11, page 57, line 2, at end insert—
“Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act
In Schedule 3 to the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (enactments specified for the purposes of Part 1 of that Act), at the appropriate place insert—“Psychoactive Substances Act 2016”.”
This amendment adds the Psychoactive Substances Act to the list of enactments in Schedule 3 to the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (which specifies enactments for the purpose of the Secretary of State’s and Welsh Ministers’ functions under Part 1 of that Act).
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This has been an experience. I fully understand why previous Ministers and Governments looked long and hard at the Bill, and why, although it was desperately needed and there was a lot of talk, it did not go very far.
I commend the work done by two Liberal Democrat Ministers in the last Administration, Norman Baker and Lynne Featherstone, who were very much in the driving seat in in the preparation of the Bill. For a number of reasons I wish that it had been introduced in the last Parliament, not least because I would not have been at the Dispatch Box having to deal with so many difficult issues.
This is an enormously important Bill. It is not perfect, but it is an awful lot better than what we had before we started. There were some minor amendments that needed to be addressed in the other House, but in 2014 there were 129 deaths in Great Britain in which psychoactive substances were implicated. On the day I announced this Bill was going to be introduced, I took a call from a journalist from Falkirk in Scotland who wanted a comment from me on why I was doing this. He told me about a gentleman and a lady in his area who had been to a head shop a couple of days before and bought what they thought were safe, legal products, and within hours he was dead and she was seriously injured. I passionately hope she has made a full recovery.
I am conscious that we should never again talk about a legal high that is safe or legal. If someone takes a substance, they have to realise the dangers involved in that. I know the shadow Minister wants us to be strong on the education part of the Bill, and we will work together to make sure that it is strong.
I also want to express thanks for the tone and the way in which we have conducted proceedings on the Bill. The Chair of the Select Committee alluded to the fact that it has been done quite speedily. There was speedy work done by the Select Committee and by the Public Bill Committee. I thank all members of the Bill Committee. Some of them, particularly the Scottish National party members, had never participated in a Bill Committee before, and I pay tribute to the attitude and the way in which that was done. I also pay tribute to the devolved Administrations, because this Bill covers the whole of the UK; it is a very important Bill.
I pay tribute in particular to my hon. Friend Mike Freer. There was never any intention in this Bill of making things difficult for any individual or groups. What we wanted to do—I was passionate about this—is make us safe in this country. We wanted to get away from the concept that people might have thought something was fun and would be safe, when it could take their life or the life of their loved one.
My team, led by an excellent Bill manager, has done excellent work as well. That is perhaps partly a tribute to the work done before I was the Minister—the background information that gave us an understanding of how this Bill could work.
It is absolutely right that the Bill is similar, but not identical, to the one introduced a couple of years ago in the Republic of Ireland. We have learned from some of the mistakes made there. To be fair, they are looking very closely at us now.
It should also be said that we are not alone in having our communities blighted by these products. Other countries around the world are trying desperately to address this issue. Next week a Minister from far, far away is coming to talk to me and to ask, “How have you done this? How are we going to do it? Can you help us by monitoring it as you go forward so we can introduce similar things?”
There is one major amendment that I particularly hope works, and does so very fast and that is the Government amendment on possession within custodial premises—prisons and the other closed estate. That was requested not by me, but by the prisons Minister. He requested it because he had the governors around the country, the Prison Officers Association, and others, including the prisoners, saying, “This is out of hand in our prisons. We need help.” Many people said that there was legislation that could have been used, but this Bill makes it very clear that possession in prison or other custodial premises is a criminal offence. Nobody in this House wanted to criminalise everybody in possession, but within these institutions that is very important. I hope that that works quickly, along with the body-worn cameras which are being trialled in our prisons at the moment to prevent assaults on staff.
I am conscious that others want to speak, but let me say that I am enormously proud to have brought this Bill through, as it will save lives. As a father, I can only imagine what others have gone through when they have had their loved ones taken away from them or seen them badly damaged. I, too, panicked like hell when my daughters went to university. They are really sensible kids who understood everything, but they could easily have been dragged into thinking that these things were safe—they were not safe and we have made sure that everybody knows that now.
Labour’s 2015 manifesto included a commitment to ban the sale and distribution of dangerous psychoactive substances. We believe that a blanket ban, with listed exemptions, is the most effective means of beginning to tackle the serious public health problem these drugs have brought about. That is why Labour supports this Bill. We have not agreed with the Government on every detail of it, but we have been united in wanting the most effective legislation possible to tackle the scourge of these disruptive substances and to curb the criminal fraternity who are pushing them on our young people.
I am greatly disappointed that the Government have chosen not to place poppers on the exemptions list, as I believe that will undermine the Bill and place poppers users, particularly men who have sex with men, at greater risk of greater harm. Despite our support for the general approach of the Bill, I have made it clear that we do not think that this legislation alone will tackle the issue. Maryon Stewart, an amazing woman, said in May:
“No law can offer the perfect solution to protect people from drugs; it is equally vital we all concentrate our efforts on making the public, young people in particular, more aware of the harms of these substances in schools, at university and during festivals.”'
I could not agree more. Sadly, the Government do not seem to agree that a comprehensive education and awareness strategy needs to go alongside the measures contained in this Bill. That is truly the only way in which we will effectively reduce demand, and thereby make measures controlling supply easier and more effective.
I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne for working closely with me on this Bill. His insights into the public health aspects of the legislation have been invaluable and it has been a pleasure to work with him. I also thank the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, Mike Penning for the spirit of co-operation he has shown throughout the passing of the Bill and for his humour. I also thank the Scottish National party Members, who have been great to work with. This has been the first Bill I have led on, and it has been good to have them alongside.
This legislation was introduced in the other place, and I want to pay tribute to the excellent work done by my Labour colleagues there, particularly Lord Rosser, who led on the Bill for Labour. My colleagues in the other place were instrumental in improving the Bill by securing more comprehensive exceptions for academic and medical research. I am convinced that the input from the Labour Members has made a real difference to this Bill.
In conclusion, if the House is divided tonight, we will be voting for the Bill. Expert advice and experience from Ireland suggests that a blanket ban is the most effective means of beginning to tackle the pernicious industry in new psychoactive substances. We committed to banning new psychoactive substances in our manifesto, and I sincerely believe this Bill is a good first step in our battle to protect the public and our children from the serious health risks and harms that these dangerous drugs present. However, the fight against the harms brought about by new psychoactive substances is only just beginning, and I will continue to work for better drug education and awareness in this country as that fight continues.
May I echo the words of both Front Benchers about what a pleasure it has been to work on this Bill and to work with Members from the three main parties? During this process there had been complete consensus and we had no Divisions even in the Public Bill Committee; I served on the Health and Social Care Bill Committee in the last Parliament and I am not used to such Bill Committees. It therefore came as a bit of a rude shock when, at the end of this process and like the No. 10 bus, we had three Divisions in a row—
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not give way, because two of my colleagues wish to speak and we are going to finish on time. I want to say just three things. Although I do not wish to downplay the importance of the subject, it is unfortunate that we have spent so much time discussing amendment 5 on poppers. All I will say is that it is a hugely important issue, and we need to get it resolved and to move quickly on from it. I really appreciated it when the Minister said “immediately” and “by the summer”. I wrote those phrases down, and, as his former PPS, he knows that I will hold him to his word.
I have been in the House since 2010, and have found that the interest in this subject has been huge. Debates in Westminster Hall and questions to the Prime Minister in the previous Parliament led to the matter being included in manifestos at the general election. Here we are today, and we are almost done with it. To explain why it is important I wish to return to the story of an 18-year-old from my constituency who died at a music festival. She had everything to live for—she was an Army cadet, and a Duke of Edinburgh gold award winner—but for £40 her life was gone. Her dad said at the inquest:
“I always imagined if any harm came to Ellie it would be on a bungee jump, canoeing down a fierce river, or in an accident on a mountain—but nothing like this. She was so sensible. It is an absolute tragedy for our family. It was one act of stupidity that has destroyed a family.”
That says it all about why we are here.
Let us remember that new psychoactive substances are notoriously difficult to identify. Currently, they have to be regulated on a substance-by-substance, or even group-by-group, basis because of the diversity and the speed with which they are developed to replace drugs that are controlled under the 1971 Act. The cruellest danger of the so-called legal highs is that I have seen them sold as “harmless fun” at so many festivals that I happily attend with my friends and, this summer, with my family, and they are of course anything but that.
Do I think that the Bill addresses the problem? I believe so, because it is the blanket ban that we were promised. It is a Bill that we have been crying out for and campaigning for over many years. The current response in Hampshire, which I represent, is built around reducing demand, restricting supply and the use of Trading Standards. Hampshire Trading Standards has tried everything, but it has been unable successfully to secure a prosecution using existing legislation for the sale of NPS by head shops in the county. Instead it has focused on supporting the police using current antisocial behaviour legislation where that can be associated with a problem retailer. It does not take a genius to work out that that is merely fiddling while Rome burns. It is all good work, but, without this legislation, we have been tying our hands behind our backs, and we are now nearly there.
I mentioned head shops. There was one on Stockbridge Road in my constituency and it was still there on Second Reading. I am glad to say that it was closed down last month under antisocial behaviour legislation. My hope is that this legislation will lead to the end of many, many more head shops, as happened in Ireland.
Have we improved the Bill as it has gone through the House? As I said, I sat on the Bill Committee where we introduced, under clause 1, the new offence of possession of a psychoactive substance in the secure estate. That is absolutely crucial, and like the Minister, I share a great deal of hope that that will make a big difference. There is a huge problem in the secure estate right now, and we have a responsibility to tackle it.
In conclusion, this is a very good Bill. It has been a long time coming, and it has been a pleasure to play even a small part in it. It was a manifesto commitment, and we are getting on with delivering it. We are here to do no harm, and to do as much good as we possibly can. As the Minister has said, although the Bill is not perfect, it is a giant leap forward.
I shall be very brief. I wish to congratulate all those involved in bringing forward this Bill, including the Government; the Minister who has been very willing to engage in open and robust debates; the Scottish Government who have supported the ethos behind the Bill; the Committees; and our colleagues on the Labour Benches. This is the second Bill with which I have been closely involved, and it has been a pleasure to work alongside Labour colleagues on a number of issues.
It is clear that new psychoactive substances are dangerous, and we are putting that message out there now. They are also unpredictable: there is no way of knowing what is in them or of predicting the impact on the individual. In a previous debate in this House, I talked about someone I know who made one foolish mistake at the age of 17. She was a talented young medical student, and a beautiful girl, and she has spent the rest of her life on a locked psychiatric ward. It is impossible to predict what impact drugs will have.
I have some remaining concerns, as the Minister will be aware, particularly on poppers. I look forward to the review. I remain concerned about distinguishing between people buying online and people buying down a dark alley from a drug dealer. I understand that the Minister has said that that is not the intention behind the Bill, and I accept that. I just want to quote him:
“The spirit of the Bill is that we do not want to criminalise individuals for possession”.—[Hansard, 19 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 737.]
He also said:
“Possession in a club would not be an offence; indeed, possession is not an offence under any part of the legislation”, and:
“Purchase and possession would be legal… so there would be no illegality on the part of the individual.”––[Official Report, Psychoactive Substances Public Bill Committee,
In the spirit with which we have taken the Bill through, I just wanted to say that the Bill does make possession illegal in secure institutions.
I understand that—as the Minister knows, I am against it—but I was referring specifically to buying substances on the internet. We were unable to have those words included in the Bill today, but we do have the Minister’s words on the record, and lawyers will be able to use them if they have to.
My intention in all this is to protect people on two fronts: to protect their health by supporting the Bill in the first place, and to protect them from being criminalised for making a foolish mistake on one occasion. I commend the Bill as it stands, and, if it turns out that we are right about some aspects, I hope that it will be amended at a later stage.
I know that time is limited so I shall be very quick. I am absolutely delighted with this Bill. I have worked for a long time, before being elected to this place, with a number of families who have suffered terribly from the effects of these dangerous chemicals. I have heard at first hand their stories at meetings of organisations such as Rebound, ANA and other charities I have worked with.
I was extremely grateful for the support of the previous Justice Secretary, my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, who came down to Portsmouth to meet the victims. He was horrified to be taken around the five head shops there. I took him to one where drugs are sold over the counter. Mr Speaker, you will be horrified to know that there is a head shop selling these chemicals just over the road from a primary school in Portsmouth, and there is another one opposite a secondary school. I am pleased that my local paper,
, has been backing this campaign. Hampshire police have had their own initiative against “lethal highs,” as they accurately call them. I am sure that my hon. Friend Steve Brine will join me in applauding the excellent work they have done in this field.
Whatever we call these new psychoactive drugs—legal highs, club drugs or a number of innocent-sounding brand names for specific compounds—the sellers and producers deliberately hide the dangers they pose from the people who consume them. The drugs look glitzy, as if they belong in a sweet shop, but they are extremely dangerous. Some of the compounds often mixed in legal highs are already controlled substances, such as ketamine and mephedrone, but there is also a wide range of uncontrolled chemicals. I am really pleased that they will now all be brought under control as a result of this Bill. I urge all local authorities, including my own in Portsmouth, to start planning now for how they will deal with head shops and tackle this menace generally.
As always, we have to balance punishment and criminalisation against rehabilitation and support. Many of the people who take these substances are vulnerable and need support as well as deterrence, and that includes many people in the criminal justice system. Many of those who dabble in these substances are children, and they are especially vulnerable, as the substances hide behind deceptively childish names and presentation. Having seen at first hand the effect on families, I believe that we need to take action now. I am absolutely thrilled that the Bill is going to be passed through this House tonight.
Mr Speaker, may I ask what time will be left for the hon. Members who will follow me?
It is very good of the hon. Gentleman to pursue a bit of information. The answer is that the debate must conclude at 5.39 pm, which fits neatly with the hon. Gentleman’s legendary succinctness.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to be fair, which is why I asked that question.
I am very pleased that we are having this legislation agreed on the Floor of the House. I am pleased that the Minister, whom we have great affection for, has delivered what he said he would, and in the time he set out, and that the Government have done that as well. I also want to thank the civil servants who are here—they do not often get thanks; they should get more—for all the hard work they have done. They have helped the Government formulate the legislation and bring it forward.
My party, the Democratic Unionist party, was committed to this—we wanted to see legislative change. I have been approached by the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse, a group that helps those with addictions. It wanted this legislative change, as did my constituents, and we now have it in place as the law of the land. That is good news on behalf of Adam Owens’ family—his father and step-mum—and his friends, who wanted this to happen. We had a rally in Newtownards town, in the middle of my constituency, for all his family and friends. I gave them a commitment that I would work with Government within this House to make it happen, and we have delivered it. With that in mind, I want to say on behalf of my constituents in Strangford, and those across the whole of Northern Ireland, a very special thanks to Government for doing what they said they would do.
For too long, we have seen shops such as Skunkworks proliferate on our high streets, with their number reaching 250 in 2014. They were not just selling new psychoactive substances badged up in attractive packages with names such as GoCaine, Herbal Haze and the like—they were selling, legally and openly, various paraphernalia involved in wider drug use, involving bongs, seeds, pipes, and hydroponic growing and lighting systems. In advance of this Bill, many of these shops have now, thankfully, closed. We had one such shop in Margate that was raided by Kent police, who found 269 banned items and confiscated 52 varieties of what one might call legal highs and herbal tobacco substitutes. Of course, the internet will remain, and will grow, as a source of such products and a source of prescription-only drugs such as steroids.
The number of deaths involving NPSs is low compared with the number involving heroin, morphine and other opiates, and cocaine, but it is substantial enough, with too many young lives being wasted. I therefore welcome the Government’s attempt to clamp down on these substances. My only marginal concern about the Bill is that the definition is very broad—
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is going to leave time for Paul Flynn to speak as well, and so is bringing his remarks to a close.
Yes, I am, Mr Speaker.
By its very intent, the blanket ban must be so, or else we will just continue the game of cat and mouse that has characterised control of these substances to date.
As I said, I support the Government’s ambition to take action. I remain a libertarian—I am not a killjoy—but these lethal highs have killed too many, damaged others, and are an evil of the kind that this place is here to act on. I hope that the Bill will have its intended consequences, and I support it.
Evidence-free and prejudice-rich, this Bill will do harm. It is evidence-free because the House has ignored the evidence of the countries that have taken this step before and have increased drug use. We banned mephedrone, and the result was that its use increased again. By banning a drug, we make it more attractive, drive it underground, increase the prices, and have more irresponsible people selling it.
I have been in this House for every cannabis debate—every drugs debate—for the past 28 years. It is the shared foolishness of the House to believe that prohibition works. It does not: it makes things worse. Drugs will not be controlled by this Bill just as they are not controlled in our prisons, where there is illegal drug use in every single one. This is a foolish Bill based on prejudice and not on evidence.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.