Dangerous Drugs

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 4:05 pm, 3rd July 2019

I join others in welcoming this statutory instrument, but I ask the Minister why it has taken so long. The recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was made in December 2017. Why has it taken more than 18 months to get to this point? Given the changes being made to facilitate research, for goodness’ sake, would it not have made sense to act immediately on its advice, rather than delaying for so long?

I urge the Government, despite their inclination, to go further and embark on a process that focuses on evidence, including the evidence of harm. Does the Minister think that drugs policy should be based strictly on evidence of how we best reduce harm? If he accepts that premise, he will accept the need for significant further reform.

Picking up on the point made by Pete Wishart, I urge the Minister to appear before the Scottish Affairs Committee. There is a danger that if Ministers refuse to attend Select Committees it will send out the most appalling signal to anyone else tempted not to respond to a Select Committee request to give evidence. This is such an important matter. The Scottish Government, to give them credit, want to trial new methods. Consumption rooms make enormous sense. There is evidence that we could significantly reduce the number of deaths from dangerous drug use through that sort of approach. It is scandalous that the Government are standing in the way of the trial in Glasgow of that much safer approach—standing in the way of good evidence-based policy making.

If the Minister accepts that we should be guided by the evidence of what works best to reduce harm, he would inevitably explore what they have done in Canada by ending the ludicrous prohibition on cannabis, which has brought about the most appalling side effects. So many young people are being driven into crime, too often ending up with criminal records, and being confronted by violence in the poorest communities in our country. The extent to which young teenagers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are used by criminal networks to sell these drugs and are putting themselves at risk of extreme violence is shocking.

If the Government are interested in protecting young people from harm—both the violence that is an inevitable consequence of the illegal market and the risks of buying on the illegal market, where the only strains available now in places such as London are the most potent strains of cannabis that pose the biggest risk to a young person’s mental health—the Government will see the sense of regulating the market and taking the market away from criminal networks. We hand billions of pounds a year on a plate to organised crime in the most ludicrous way. We put young people at risk of extreme violence. We put young people’s health at risk. Instead, we could be raising tax revenues to educate people about the dangers of drugs—both currently illegal and legal drugs.

Let us remember that the most dangerous drug of all, in terms of harm to self and others, is alcohol—alcohol which is consumed in vast quantities in this very House of Parliament, for goodness’ sake. The hypocrisy in this debate is breathtaking. Aspirants to become our Prime Minister—members of the Conservative Cabinet—make embarrassing admissions about misdemeanours from their past, while others have been convicted of doing the same thing and have had their careers blighted.

Let us end this hypocrisy. Let us follow the evidence. Let us regulate the market, take the criminals out of the market and protect our young people more effectively.