Synthetic Cannabinoids: Reclassification — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 9:30 am, 6th November 2018

I think that that is a fair point, so I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I for one would like to see drug dealers and manufacturers removed from our streets for as long as possible, so I absolutely concur.

As part of my constituency work, I have focused heavily in the last year or so on homelessness in Mansfield and Warsop. To return to the health funding aspect, I think that we can use this week’s announcement by the Health Secretary and the funding that will be available for our NHS in the coming years to explore ways in which we can put in place community and primary care services for homeless and other vulnerable people and, for these drugs, preventive services. The preventive aspect is exactly what is needed from that funding and what could make a big impact on this issue. As I said at the outset, reclassification is not a silver bullet—it is not the only answer—it comes with a need for preventive services in our communities. They are two sides of the same coin when it comes to delivering for my constituents on this issue.

Mansfield District Council and the local police have done everything they can under the current framework to help users, and I commend them for their hard work and dedication on this issue. Alongside a local charity called Framework, the council and the police have launched a joint operation to tackle antisocial behaviour relating to the use of Mamba. In the town centre alone, one sergeant, six constables and six police community support officers are working closely with the council’s neighbourhood wardens and antisocial behaviour officers to deal with the problem; that is in addition to CCTV. That demonstrates the enormity of the issue. There are more police officers working in the town centre than perhaps ever before, but the police are still being stretched by this problem. Some kind of drug-related episode, whether it is someone passing out or causing another kind of issue for residents, is still a daily occurrence.

We should not automatically assume that all homeless people are taking these drugs. Of course they are not, but because of the incredibly low cost, there is a high correlation. To some extent, this has become the drug of choice. A dedicated taskforce is focusing on the root causes of homelessness by giving individuals the support that they need to end the cycle of dependency on drugs and alcohol and helping them to turn their lives around. Three outreach workers, who specialise in homelessness, mental health and substance misuse, are supporting the community in Mansfield and trying to build relationships with users, even when their help is rejected, as it often is.

Mansfield is learning from projects in other areas in order to work on its own best practice when dealing with this issue. More than 50 people shared their experience at a recent Mamba seminar, which will provide further guidance for the local authority. I have met people from the Nottingham Mamba clinic to explore new approaches, hear their experience and try to share their work in my constituency. Interestingly, even the drugs workers on the ground in the Nottingham Mamba clinic agree that reclassification would be an important aspect of managing the problem locally. A police inspector in my constituency, Nick Butler, says that the College of Policing has acknowledged that Mansfield is leading the way in dealing with Mamba users and tackling antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping. That is commendable.

We must accept that, in some cases, it gets to the point where enough is enough. Although we can offer individuals help until we are blue in the face, the fact is that people can refuse help or, sometimes for a variety of complex reasons, are not able to accept help. Instead, they end up in an endless cycle of reoffending. We have reached the point where existing powers to deal with repeat offenders no longer have an impact, and local police are calling for further support, as we saw in the example of the police and crime commissioners writing to Government.

Following my debate in July about the societal impact of these drugs, I asked the Government for two things. First, I asked for a national strategy to share best practice, seek medical intervention and support local areas in combating the issue and, secondly, I asked the Government to consider reclassifying these drugs from class B, comparable to cannabis, to class A, in line with heroin.