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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 10:38 am, 6th November 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, and I send my best to the family, who showed enormous patience and dignity throughout a very difficult situation.

This has been a good debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on bringing the issue back before the House with persistence and tenacity. He is entirely right to do so. He described this as a serious national problem, and I do not think he is wrong about that. Statistics can be misleading. One might be lulled into thinking that synthetic cannabinoids are not a significant national problem by the statistic that less than 0.5% of 16 to 59-year-olds in England and Wales reported using a new psychoactive substance in the past year, which is broadly the same as the year before; it might seem a small number. However, as Carolyn Harris pointed out, there is another number. There were 24 deaths related to synthetics in England and Wales in 2017. That is a terrible number to put alongside the evidence that has come, loud and clear, from Stoke, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Torbay and Wales, that the issue we are discussing causes real anxiety across the country. It confronts people with the terrible reality of its impact on some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities, for whom, as my hon. Friend Jack Brereton and Ruth Smeeth pointed out, £2 buys oblivion and a dehumanised state. We do not yet have that problem in Ruislip, Northwood or Pinner, but I have seen it with my own eyes on the streets of Newcastle, and it is a shocking and unsettling sight, which we do not want in our town centres, for all the reasons that Members of Parliament have powerfully articulated here today. As Members have said, the evolution of generations of such drugs is fast-moving and a major challenge.

I would like to assure the House that we are prioritising the issue, and I will set out some evidence for that. However, I remind the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North in particular that I get the urgency of the issue, and I will close with some remarks taking us forward a bit. We are prioritising the problem—the groundbreaking Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was a substantial piece of legislation. I confirm, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, that we shall publish our review of it before the end of November. However, as I have said in previous debates, there is evidence that the Act has had a powerful effect in removing new psychoactive substances from open sale and ending the game of cat and mouse between Government and backstreet chemists. Significantly, 300 retailers across the UK have closed down and are no longer selling the substances. Suppliers have been arrested, there has been action by the National Crime Agency to remove psychoactive substances and, in 2016, there were 28 convictions in England and Wales, with seven people jailed under the new powers. That rose to 152 convictions in 2017, with 62 people immediately sent to custody. In parallel with that legislation, three separate sets of controls on the progressive generations of synthetic cannabinoids have been introduced, in 2009, 2012 and 2016.