§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
We on this side were greatly relieved, and we were grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, when we heard him announce last Thursday his conclusions on the Report of the Wootton Sub-Committee. Our relief was not dismissed when we sensed, rightly, I hope, that our feeling was shared and widely supported by hon. and right hon. Members opposite. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity to gauge this more accurately by the time the proceedings this afternoon are over.
However, we thought, and we think now, that the House should spend part of its time today in discussing the Report and its implications, if only because it is our view—it is certainly mine—that opinion in the country is a little more confused than it is in this House, if my assessment is correct, and because the question of cannabis and its use has been the subject of a considerable propaganda campaign which the Home Secretary, with the resources at his disposal and the authority of his office, may be able to counter in what he has to say.
The House of Commons is as much a place in which we ought to register agreement on important issues as one in which we ought to air our differences. I have two general preliminary observations to make. In the first place, I myself—I hope that other hon. Members do so, too—greatly rejoiced at the decision of the House of Lords last week in its judicial capacity on the question of absolute liability. I hope that that decision, which will be generally welcomed, will not deter the Home Secretary from the good work which he promised last Thursday, when he said that he was continuing to take up the question of absolute liability in this matter.
948 In passing, I hope that the question of absolute liability will not be viewed solely in relation to cannabis or solely in relation to drugs. As some of the Law Lords said last Thursday, Parliament has been a little lighthearted in recent years—this applies not only to the present Government but to their predecessors—in creating offences, or at least in appearing to create offences, in fields in which it was anxious to control particular activities but in respect of which no element of moral guilt appears to arise.
I remember that, in the time of the 1945 Parliament, the palmy days when Sir Hartley Shawcross was Attorney-General, and a Socialist, I had a tremendous battle with him on this subject, but I lost the battle because I was told that the particular subject—the black market, or whatever it was—was so important that it did not matter whether a person was morally guilty or not.
If we want the law to be respected, however much we wish to control an activity and however much we may be afraid of bogus defences, we must be careful not to exclude the element of conscious guilt from criminality. I hope that that principle will be generally agreed and accepted, and I wish the Home Secretary well in his work in this connection.
Second, I say sincerely that although, like the Home Secretary, I differ from the judgment of the Wootton Sub-Committee in this matter, I wish to say nothing disrespectful about any of its members. People who undertake public work for Parliament deserve the thanks of Parliament for what they do, whether one happens to accept or to reject their conclusions. Parliament could not carry on without public-spirited persons, eminent each in his or her walk of life, who are prepared to undertake this kind of work, always, I believe, without pay.
I wish, therefore, to express on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends thanks to the members of the Committee, thanks which are no less sincere because I happen to differ from their conclusions. Having said that, however, I claim the right of Parliament to differ from conclusions of Committees when we think that they are wrong.
949 I was not a little disturbed when, as the Home Secretary reminded the House, I was questioned on this subject on a sound radio programme and also on television on at least two other occasions, that on each occasion it was suggested to me that, if the Government set up a Committee, they ought to accept its recommendations. I was chided a little by the Home Secretary for not pointing out that this particular Committee was not set up for this purpose by the Government, and I accept his rebuke, but, with respect, the point I took was correct, namely, that Parliament must retain its supremacy in these matters, and never more so than when what is ultimately at stake is a social and political judgment. That is our purpose here. Although we must at all times find the advice of a Committee helpful, we cannot be excluded from the right ultimately to reject it if we wish.
In this case, I am convinced that the Home Secretary's political judgment was sound. As with all Committees, the Report of the Wootton Sub-Committee is obviously a compromise, even apart from the minority reservations. Often, compromise is admirable in the report of a Committee because it can yield a measure of agreement for practical action from people who in other respects take different points of view. However, on reading this Report, I feel that it is one containing a certain amount of argumentation in one direction and conclusions pointing the opposite way, and that is not the sort of compromise which I welcome.
The conclusions of the Report—this, I think, has not received adequate publicity—were these. First, cannabis is a dangerous drug. Second, in controlling this dangerous drug,there is no alternative, as it puts it, to the criminal law …Third, the Report pointed out, or the main Committee pointed out, that we were under an international obligation so to proceed, an obligation which we had renewed, as the Home Secretary reminded us last Thursday, as recently as last year. Indeed, by adhering to the resolution of the United Nations body, we renewed an undertaking to increase our efforts to reduce the use of this drug in our own dominions.
950 Lastly, in spite of the interjection of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) last Thursday, the Committee made no recommendation, except that the Home Secretary should examine the situation, about creating a distinction between possession and trafficking, use and pushing, although the advantages of a distinction may superficially and at first sight appear to be attractive.
Unfortunately—partly, I think, because of the conclusion in the argumentation of the Report—instead of highlighting these positive findings of the Committee, which are the most important findings in the Report, the Press hailed it as a step in the direction of legalising cannabis, and it was so heralded in the television programme in which I participated.
I share the view of the Home Secretary that had he gone on to accept the proposals in the Report to reduce the maximum penalties available for breaches in the law in this field, the conclusion drawn by the public, by traffickers in the drag and by potential victims of it would be that the Government were on their way to legalising its use. This seems to me to be the sort of commonsense political judgment which Ministers are here to make and which Parliament is here to endorse, and I am very happy to say that in this respect I wholly accept what the Home Secretary said.
In relation to drug use and abuse, there are, of course, a large number of related but distinguishable issues. There is the medical-social question of the effects of taking the drug—what I might call the technical aspects of the matter. Then, less important but important if we are to use the criminal law in relation to it, there are the legal questions connected with enforcement. Thirdly, there is the important issue of international comity, because none of these questions is nowadays a purely domestic issue. We must take account of the desires and needs of other countries. In this connection it is vitally important to notice that those who take the initiative in asking for stronger measures from the West are largely the developing countries where the drug is better known, and we owe a duty to them quite apart from the duty which we owe to our own citizens. Last of all, there is the overriding political judgment.
I start with the purely legal issues, because they are the least important, 951 although they cannot be disregarded. The first point which I desire to make is that the law which we are invited to amend is a law of 1965. It was none of the contemptible predecessors of the bunch of geniuses on the present Government Front Bench who passed this Act. It was the new Labour Government swinging into action. Of course, it was largely a consolidation Measure.
I make this point quite humbly—and I do not often make legal points, but I wish to make this clear: if we want the law to be respected, it must be ascertainable, it must be simple and it must have a certain element of durability. It cannot be a law with which we are perpetually fiddling or people cannot respect it. I am far from saying that nowadays the criminal law should be like the law of the ancient Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed, but if we legislate in 1965 there is a prima facie case against legislating in a radically different sense in 1965. I feel that that is a strong argument.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that in the introduction to the Report it is maintained that there is no consistent principle in law in respect of criminal acts when these are connected only with self-damage. Will he explain to me why he thinks that the social implications of such matters as cannabis smoking justify action that is not justified in other cases? Would he enlarge on John Stuart Mills' view and his own philosophy in this matter?
§ Mr. Hogg
I intended to deal with that mainly in that part of my speech dealing with the merits of the problem. The only point which I am seeking to make at the moment is that if we legislate in 1965 there is a prima facie case against legislating in a totally contrary sense with the same Government and virtually the same Parliament in 1969.
Secondly, and still on the legal aspects, if hon. Members look at the penalties Section in the Act of 1965, they will find that, caught up in a single penalties Section—and, I shall try to show, rightly caught up—there are not only the drugs in Part I, which are separate, but also those in Part II, which mainly related to prepared opium, and also the Schedule, which contains 80 different substances, 952 all of them separate, all of them with varying degrees of toxicity, some with a medical use and some without, some synthetic and some natural, some habit-forming in one sense and some habit-forming in another sense.
Together with their derivatives, we have a very formidable list of substances. Unless it is desired to have 80 different offences, or, if we separate, as the hon. Member for Yarmouth suggested the other day, use from trafficking, 160 different offences, it seems to me that it must be wrong, to deal with one of these substances in isolation. I think that the Home Secretary was right when he made that point in answering questions in the House.
The third legal point which I would make about the proposals is that what is dealt with, as the Home Secretary said, is maximum penalties and not minimum penalties. We must, I think, try to set up—and to some extent over the centuries we have succeeded in setting up—a legal system in which judges can be expected to know the difference between a first offence and subsequent offences, between, let us say, cannabis and heroin, between using and being used, between being the dupe and being the exploiter.
Only last year we passed an Act called the Theft Act, which radically altered what had previously been the law of larceny. The maximum penalty in that Act is also 10 years. In theory, that covers the case of the old lady who pinches a bag of bull's-eyes from a super-market and the professional thief. We expect our courts to know the difference. We expect the police to know what to prosecute in a magistrates' court and what to take to sessions or assizes. We must presume that people besides ourselves have a little common sense. This idea that we can sentence people by remote control cannot bear much examination. If we do not have judges of the right kind, it is our business to provide them, but do not let us try to do the work of the judges for them.
I now come to the point which interested the hon. Member for Yarmouth. Here, I must make one or two rather simple points. First, cannabis is not a new substance. It has been in wide use in the Middle East and elsewhere, certainly for more than 2,000 years. It is 953 my recollection that it was mentioned by Herodotus in 500 B.C. as being used by the ancient Scythians in order to madden themselves in their tents.
To say that we do not know the result of these drugs when, according to the Report, 50 per cent. of the inhabitants of Morocco have tried it, when there are 1 million habitués in India and I forget how many tens of thousands of kilogrammes are used in Egypt every year, is like saying that we do not yet know enough about the: effects of a bottle of whisky to be able to legislate about it.
It is a very well known drug and its effects are very well known, and it is only in this and one or two other rather innocent countries that it is not very well known, indeed. It has been examined for a very long time by international bodies. In 1925, it was condemned by a League of Nations Committee consisting of Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S.A., all of whom but three reported in favour of complete prohibition, the exceptions being the delegates of Great Britain, the Netherlands and India because, in the case of Great Britain, it was uncertain whether there was a potential, though not actual, medical value in the resin.
It has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations since the war. In 1961, the Narcotics Commission was informed that the Press in the Netherlands had featured comments by professional persons saying that cannabis addiction was no worse than alcoholism and recorded that "the observer of Interpol said that cannabis intoxication was known to produce aggressiveness." The representatives of the World Health Organisation drew attention to the opinion of its expert committee, which was still valid, that "cannabis definitely came under the terms of its definition of addiction".
I shall return to the word "addiction"—and there was also the added danger that cannabis abuse was very likely to be the forerunner of addiction to more dangerous addicting drugs. The Commission recalled that it had been agreed that cannabis abuse was a form of drug addiction, and emphasised that any pub- 954 licity to the contrary was misleading and dangerous. This view has been repeatedly endorsed by various United Nations organisations since.
After this condemnation, a technical committee was set up to produce a draft article which claimed that the drug was "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects" and that "such liability was not offset by substantial therapeutic advantages" not possessed by other substances. In 1963 and 1965 the committee reviewed its attitude in the light of further publicity casting doubt on the dangers of the drug and stated its position. It recognised that the situationdiffered from one country to another … There could be no question but that cannabis presented a danger to society, although more and more people were attempting to cast doubt on the necessity of controlling this substance. The Commission reiterated the view that cannabis, the drug that moved most in international traffic, should be fully subject to international control.In 1968 the Economic and Social Council passed the resolution, to which the Home Secretary drew attention and to which we adhered, through our representative recommending that Governments should "increase their efforts to eradicate the abuse and the traffic in cannabis." It is not irrelevant to point out that this was done on the initiative not only of the United States and France, but of Ghana, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico and the United Arab Republic, which are the countries which most mind the abuse of this drug. These are the people we should be most damaging if we reversed our policy in connection with it.
This is not all, because the Permanent Narcotics Board as recently as November, 1967, said:…the Board feels it should repeat the caveat which it included in its report for 1965, namely, that opposition to the control of cannabis is contrary to the advice of scientific and medical authorities of international repute, and contrary to the policy reaffirmed by the international community of States at the Plenipotentiary Conference which drafted the Single Convention in 1961. This conference in fact classified cannabis amongst the particularly dangerous substances and recommended that governments should impose a general prohibition on its production, distribution and consumption, even for medical purposes.It is worth recalling that it added that this decision was taken by a conference of 74 delegates, whose members included many experts familiar with all aspects of the narcotics problem.
955 This is the answer to the question, posed at a slightly inappropriate point in my argument, by the hon. Member for Yarmouth. I do not know what more he wants. The medical aspects are set out in Appendix 1 of the Report.
One of the earliest descriptions gives the results of the drug aseuphoria; excitement; disturbed associations; changes in the appreciation of time and space; raised auditory sensitivity with elaboration of simple phrases or tunes; fixed ideas; emotional upheaval; and illusions and hallucinations:This is what we are invited to legalise.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman distinguish for the House in what way the list he has just read differs from the effects of a high consumption of alcohol?
§ Mr. Hogg
I shall deal with that. The hon. Member must not assume that I have failed to notice the more elementary aspects of this problem. I propose to deal with that at an appropriate place in my remarks.
Lord Todd put it in this way:To give an accurate picture of the effects of hashish is extremely difficult, partly because they are more subjective than objective and because individual variation in response is probably greater with this than with any other drug…. Among the commonest recorded effects are the feeling of well-being alternating with depression, distortion of time and space, and double consciousness. Objectively, there is a period of excitation and exaltation, followed often by sleep or coma.The adverse effects of abuse are thus described. The Report says:Observers with long experience concur in the opinion that continued excessive use of cannabis over a period of years leads to moral and social decay; countries from which such reports come are South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, Astrakan and India…. The degradation that most writers report in the excessive chronic cannabis user is apparent in several ways. He is irritable and impulsive, or inert and dreamy; he neglects himself grossly and is incapable of sustained effort; he may become a beggar or a vagrant taking no responsibility for his family …The Report goes on to state other disadvantages. It states:A Greek investigator inquired into the subsequent history of 170 people who were arrested for possessing cannabis between 1919 and 1950 but had not previously been before 956 a court for any offence; he found that 117 of these were subsequently sentenced for crimes of violence, blackmail and similar offences. P. O. Wolff wrote in 1949 that the drug had given rise to 'a most appalling percentage of the tragedies and crimes in Cuban society'".I could go on citing evidence for a very long time. The evidence is overwhelming. As is pointed out in the Report, since this drug is often taken in mixture with other drugs it is sometimes a little difficult to disentangle its results. As its effects are primarily psychological, it is also difficult to produce statistical evidence. However, during the Christmas Recess I read three sets of papers—one professional and two political. In each the pattern was repeated. They concerned the use of cannabis, L.S.D. and in one case, heroin. One case led to murder and the other two to other personal disasters. The facts of one were communicated to me by the parent of a young woman who had started at one of our universities with all the promise in the world.
When I talk to members of my profession and, often enough, to members of the medical profession, I find that, although they cannot always give figures which prove these facts, as has been the case all over the world, this drug is associated in their minds and professional experience with crime, violence and abnormality of one sort or another, but, most commonly of all, with a kind of degradation of the personality.
I am not prepared to accept that this is simply self-damage. Crime is not self-damage; murder is not self-damage; driving dangerously is not self-damage. Even putting oneself on the Health Service is not simply self-damage. I do not think that in a responsible modern society we have no right to discuss this matter lightheartedly, as some people do, or without the clearest knowledge of where muddle-headed thinking on our part may lead other people.
I have been asked by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) about alcohol and tobacco. Cigarette smoking kills about 50,000 people every year—partly as a result of lung cancer, partly as a result of bronchitis, partly as a result of heart disease. I do not know all the results of alcohol. It is true that, if I were asked to advise a delegation of Martians 957 visiting this planet without previous experience of any one of the three about whether any one of them should be permitted on the planet of Mars, I might find it difficult to do so. If I were asked to advise someone from the Middle East or India, where the most appalling results of hashish addiction are to be seen on a massive and sociological scale, about whether he should admit tobacco and alcohol on the same scale, it might well be that I would have my hesitations.
But that is not the problem with which we are faced. This is my answer to the hon. Gentleman. We are a nation of cigarette smokers and drinkers. Are we to become a race af hashish addicts as well? To hear some hon. Members, who should know better—one of them is not in the Chamber at present, so I shall not refer to him—talking about this subject, one would think that the burden of proof lay on the people who wanted to prevent the adoption of a new vice, if I may use the word "vice" without question begging, or a new habit, instead of the other way round. But, with modern drugs, the universal experience has been that many of them have unexpected, un-desired side effects.
Where does the burden of proof lay in this case? I submit that it lies on those who wish to go soft on soft drugs and not on those who wish to remain tough on them. If we were to adopt what is proposed or started to take a namby-pamby attitude about it, we should need our heads examined. I range myself wholeheartedly behind the Home Secretary on this issue.
I said that I would refer to the question of the use of the world "addiction", because this has been another excuse for sophistical argument on the other side of the controversy. When I say that I am addicted to something, I mean, in the ordinary use of the English language, that I cannot do without it. Until very recently, that was what doctors meant by it, too. But recently—and I would not care in the presence of at least one member of the medical profession to say when—the medical profession, which is as much entitled as lawyers to adopt its own technical language, provided it does not allow itself to be misled by it, con-find the word "addiction" to drugs which altered the chemistry of the body 958 in such a way that physical withdrawal symptoms were visible.
If they care to use the word in that sense, I have no objection. But they know that drugs which are not addictive in that narrow and confined sense may none the less be habit-forming and may create a dependency upon them. If the habit is vicious and produces deplorable social results, I do not mind what they call it, but do not let us have a semantic argument about whether they are drugs of addiction or dependence.
It is time that we made these issues plain and stood up to be counted. This country owes a duty to the other countries of the world not to permit within these boundaries the spread of this vice. We have not suffered from it very badly yet. But if we were to go back on the policy which we have deliberately adopted for more than 40 years we should be breaking our pledged word. What is more, we should be interfering vitally with the struggle of some of the developing countries to lift their population from squalor, poverty and ignorance to which this particular drug is an important contributory cause; worse, we should be importing here another source of misery, crime and unhappiness.
For that reason, I hope that the House will speak this afternoon in no uncertain voice.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan):
After the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), which represents my own approach completely, I feel like pronouncing the benediction, but I doubt whether the House would say "Amen", because I fancy that a number of speeches to the contrary will be made. However, I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the moral force, passion and conviction with which he put his views, with which I find myself wholeheartedly in agreement. To have a doughty supporter like him gives me very great comfort. I should like to think that he would always be on my side.
I must ask the House to excuse me if I leave immediately after making my speech. I have a long-standing engagement in Cardiff, but as this was an important debate I put it off to be here. 959 I hope that it will not be thought discourteous if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State listens to the debate and winds up shortly at the end of it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman took the opportunity of the debate to widen the discussion. I am grateful that he did so and I would like to follow him in this respect. He stated the case so completely that I can cut out much of what I was proposing to say. There is no point in wasting time by both of us putting the case against the legalisation of cannabis, as it has been put so well by him.
I think that it came as a surprise, if not a shock, to most people, when that notorious advertisement appeared in The Times in 1967, to find that there is a lobby in favour of legalising cannabis. The House should recognise that this lobby exists, and my reading of the Report is that the Wootton Sub-Committee was over-influenced by this lobby. I had the same impression as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that it was compromise at the end; that those who were in favour of legalising "pot" were all the time pushing the other members of the Committee back, so that eventually these remarkable conclusions emerged that it would be wrong to legalise it but that the penalties should be reduced.
The existence of this lobby is something that the House and public opinion should take into account and be ready to combat, as I am. It is another aspect of the so-called permissive society, and I am glad if my decision has enabled the House to call a halt in the advancing tide of so-called permissiveness. I regard it as one of the most unlikeable words that has been invented in recent years. If only we would regard ourselves as a compassionate society, an unselfish society or a responsible society, I would feel prouder of 1969. This conclusion is another aspect of the same thing, and I was encouraged by the overwhelming response in the House of Commons to the statement I made last Thursday.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, although we may differ from the conclusions of the Committee, we should thank it for what it has done. Apart from the recommendation on 960 penalties, much valuable work has gone into the Report and a number of useful conclusions have emerged which I propose to take up, although all those have, naturally, been overshadowed in the public comment by the controversy over penalties.
I repeat the thanks which I expressed, and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman uttered again this afternoon to the Committee. Although I have seen forecasts that some members of the Committee may not wish to go on with their work, I hope that they will wish to do so. I would much regret it if they did not. I do not believe that they would take the view that, because the House of Commons differs from their conclusions, they should feel debarred from going on with their work.
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) wrote recently in a newspaper. He said that we had developed no social philosophy, no framework of principles, on which to judge drug dependence. This is true. He is a member of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence and I hope that he will do his best to make good some of its deficiencies, in company with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), the other House of Commons representative on the Committee, who has written to me to say that he cannot be here this afternoon.
The use of drugs is a complex problem, depending on a number of different considerations and upon social philosophy. Different attitudes will be expressed depending upon whether these matters are discussed against the background of the laboratory, of public health or of society's sense of values. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I have taken our stand to a great extent on the third and to some extent on the second; certainly, that is where I start from. There must be different attitudes depending upon where one starts, and it would be as well if there were a cool and dispassionate examination of the approach that we should make to this complex problem of the use of drugs.
This is where I would like to broaden the discussion and then come back to it a little later. There is little doubt that a pharmaceutical revolution in drugs 961 working on the central nervous system is now taking place. It is a new phenomenon for our society. I am told that the number of new drugs manufactured may run into hundreds. Stimulants, depressants, tranquillisers, hallucinogens have all been developed during the last 10 years, and our society has not yet come to terms with the circumstances in which they should properly be used or in which they are regarded as being socially an evil.
Continuing debate on this matter will have to go on, and I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opened it up this afternoon. I would make only one marginal comment on what he said. He said he thought that enough was known about cannabis for a final conclusion to be reached. I agree that enough is known in the under-developed countries, where it has been used for centuries, but I wonder whether he is absolutely right in thinking that we know its full impact on major industrial societies such as our own against the use of alcohol—he made the point himself in a rather different connection—and in addition to or in substitution for alcohol.
There is a case here for much more research; but the conclusion that I draw is precisely the reverse from that drawn by others, and that is, if much more research is needed, this is not the time either to legalise the drug or to reduce the penalties. It is for that reason that I came to the conclusion that I did. It is against this background that cannabis must be considered. I felt that it was wrong for the Committee to take one drug, look at it in isolation from the whole complex and background, and bring forward recommendations in the way it did.
Contrary to views that were perhaps held a short while ago, I understand that cannabis now has no medical value; that there are a number of aspects of it which are damaging, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, and in that respect there are the various problems which he raised, the medical and social effects, the legal question of enforcement, international comity, the political judgment. All these are important. I would add one more that he did not touch on, but which is always very much in the forefront of his mind, and that is civil liberty. It is right to balance the 962 liberty of the individual in these matters, and this is another complex aspect of the problem.
Where there is doubt on these matters, as there is, then the public policy at least must be clear. I have endeavoured, with the full support of the House, to make the public policy clear, but there must be a greater certainty of knowledge. There must be clear understanding of what is involved before any action is taken along the lines that the Committee was suggesting. In the meantime, everyone in the country now knows what the policy of the House of Commons and of the Government is on this matter.
I understand the view of the Committee that the law is not satisfactory in a number of respects. It was a coincidence that the House of Lords delivered its judgment on the Sweet case on the same day that I was proposing to answer the Questions in the House of Commons. The immediate value of the Sweet judgment is that it will remove from the minds of a great many people who let premises, or take in lodgers, or are concerned in the management of such places as educational establishments, many unnecessary and improper fears that were previously expressed of liability to prosecution for an offence in regard to which they were in no way culpable.
I speak as a layman and not as a lawyer, but I do not see how, in any circumstances of the Sweet case, Miss Sweet could have been regarded as culpable. If she was culpable, a great many other landlords would be culpable too, and we would be in an impossible situation.
The immediate value of it is this. I propose to continue my discussions with the Law Commission on the matter. That body is a distinguished group of lawyers who can give me advice. I shall ask them to say whether they think that the law needs make more clear in this direction. But at least I have the sense that the urgency is not now so great, in view of that judgment, and I can look at the matter with a little more leisure.
I said that I wanted to broaden the discussion a little from the question of cannabis. The picture on the drug scene as a whole is very sobering, although I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is not yet serious in 963 numerical terms. The new drugs to which I have referred already are illustrative of the dangers that we run. I am told of one new drug which may shortly be produced and which will have a potency at least ten times as great as that of L.S.D. The Home Office has a considerable international reputation on the matter—no thanks to me, but to everyone who has contributed to it. I have discussed this with my officials, and apparently a good graduate chemist often can manufacture a drug which can be extremely potent; so, clearly, we are up against a real and serious problem.
I will not burden the House with statistics. I would mention only four figures, comparing 1964 with 1968. In 1964, there were 753 known addicts to dangerous drugs. In 1967, that figure had grown by nearly 1,000 to 1,729. In the case of heroin, 521 were dependent on heroin in 1964. The figure in 1967 had grown to 1,299. By the end of 1968, under the new regulations, which I think are beginning to prove their worth, we had received some 2,624 first notifications, of whom 2,096 related to heroin addicts. The registration means that a great many more have come to light than were known to exist before; 1,024 had previously not come to notice. I am sorry to say that, between 1964 and 1968, the known number of young people under 20 addicted to heroin rose from 40 to 785.
In my approach to cannabis, I have been influenced by a number of these facts. I know that it can be shown that there is not overwhelming evidence that the person who goes to heroin would not have got there anyway, whether cannabis had been legal. But I am bound to say that I was moved when I saw one report of a case study of a group of young people which showed that what had happened was that, between 16 and 17, they had taken cannabis, between 18 and 19 they had taken heroin, and that by the age of 20 they were in hospital for permanent treatment. None of us can dismiss that sort of tragedy of young lives being thrown away in this manner.
The statistics of convictions for drug offences have been increasing over the last three or four years. In 1966, there were 1,397 convictions, and in 1967 the total was 3,024. Another disquieting 964 feature that I find is that the problem is no longer confined to London. A number of provincial centres are beginning to find evidence of drug abuse, and illicit trafficking grows more organised. I have asked the police for a special report on the matter, details of which I would prefer not wholly to give today. It refers to a number of large seizures of cannabis, bringing the total for last year well above anything recorded in previous years. There have also been detections of attempts at large-scale illegal manufactures of L.S.D.
We are faced with a continual battle. I am overhauling the arrangements and degree of energy which the police and the Customs and Excise are putting into the detection of manufacture of these drugs. It is extremely important that we should do so. In consultation with the representative organisations, I am also working out the framework of some new regulations under the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1967 for the safe keeping of drugs in shops, warehouses and factories. There are arrangements already, some of which are reasonably satisfactory and others of which I want to improve, and I hope to bring forward regulations later this year for which I am sure I shall have the support of the whole House.
Next, let me say a word about what is perhaps the most disturbing development of all in 1968, which was the number of youthful teenage drug takers and those just reaching the age of majority who have taken to the practice of the intravenous injection of central nervous stimulant drugs, such as methedrine. It was a matter of very great concern to me and to my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Health that their activities were encouraged by a tiny handful of doctors. I was depressed by the cumbersome procedure and the length of time that it took to deal with the situation.
I hope, in due course, that it may be possible to have discussions with the General Medical Council to see how this cumbersome procedure of dealing with thoroughly irresponsible and, one might almost say, evil doctors who over-prescribe in this way can be improved. This form of drug abuse has spread here, unfortunately, from Stockholm and other parts of Sweden, where it has been experienced with dire medical and social results.
965 There are a number of ways of trying to deal with the situation other than the cumbersome method of dealing with it through the doctors themselves. The Advisory Committee, which has been responsible for reducing this Report among others, has done a very good job in this connection. Last autumn, it took up discussions with the manufacturers and the professions, and they have agreed readily to a voluntary scheme to confine the supply of injectable amphetamines to hospitals so as to limit the availability of these drugs. That has been a great help, and I am grateful for the co-operation of the industry and the professions in making this very valuable move.
I have referred already to the other dangers predicted, the other new and more potent hallucinogens from the "underground", and the new interest in dangerous stimulants and depressants. During recent years, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs have been studying the need for international action to improve controls against the spread of abuse of drugs of this kind, and I need hardly say that the Government intend to give full support to the endeavours to get international agreement on these problems.
I think that I have said enough to indicate that, in my view, the present state of the law in a number of ways is unsatisfactory. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we should not keep fiddling about with it. There have been a number of Acts in recent years. We have the Acts of 1961, 1964 and 1965, and so we have gone on. When I look back over them, it seems to me that one or" the difficulties has been that we have tried to deal with individual problems as they have arisen, piecemeal and in a fragmentary way, at the same time accepting a potential growth in the manufacture of drugs. It may be that, in the near future, I shall be able to put before the House proposals which may give me and the Government of the day much more power to handle the problem in a much more flexible manner. The House will have to balance all the various considerations when they are put before it.
However, when one reflects on the facts that it is necessary to get voluntary 966 agreement between manufacturers before certain matters can be stopped, that doctors can prescribe in ways which are quite opposed to all the social views of the House of Commons and the overwhelming majority of people in the country, that the 1964 Act does not allow me to limit authorised possession, although it requires manufacturers and dealers to be registered but does not allow me to limit the numbers on the register, all are facts which will make the fight against the hard drugs much more difficult than it should be. We are crippling ourselves in the battle at the present time.
In the light of recent experience and the challenge ahead, there is a clear risk that each new fashion of drug taking will find new gaps in the defences, which will only be plugged, too late, by voluntary steps or by ad hoc legislation Therefore, I suggest to the House—and I should like to hear some reaction to this—that it would be better to have a single comprehensive code which would rationalise and strengthen the Government's powers and also enable them to act flexibily in the difficult and dangerous problems that are likely to arise in the years ahead.
I think that I ought to leave that matter before I get into trouble with the Chair, because I must not talk about legislation. But I should say a word about the importance of research in these directions. The Wootton Sub-Committee drew attention to research, about which the Government fully appreciate the importance and significance. For some time now the Medical Research Council, with the aid of working parties, has been studying the main areas calling for inquiry, and it is formulating a first programme for research in touch with the appropriate Government Departments.
An addiction research unit was established by my right hon. Friend, the former Minister of Health, in 1967, and that is building up a wide range of inquiries. The international bodies, too, are taking a close interest in drug research. A large area is to be opened up. I think that it is my job to try to co-ordinate it as far as possible, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, to see that we are pursuing research in the most appropriate directions.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I would not disagree that more research in anything is necessary. But, in view of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said on the large accumulation of evidence from other countries, which, in a small way, I can confirm from personal experience in Egypt, could the Home Secretary make quite clear, at any rate, that the effects of cannabis are harmful, that it can be addictive, and no mistake about it?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Yes. What is contained in the Wootton Report on that matter is probably accurate.
However, I was not referring to cannabis. When I was talking about the need for further research—although I am sure that the Committee wishes that—I was referring to this great new world which has opened up under our feet in the last 10 years, in which hundreds of new drugs, with differing effects, all of them variations perhaps on the central theme, are being manufactured and where medical and social research should be pursued on a pretty broad scale. But nothing I have said—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has not misunderstood me—has weakened my view on the general approach to cannabis.
I expect that the pro-"pot" lobby will say that it is unfair to link cannabis with the other dangerous drugs to which I have referred. I dare say that we shall be accused of doing this, but that is an accusation that I can withstand. It is simply not possible to say that those who smoke cannabis do not move on to heroin. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone that the burden of proof is on those who wish to legalise this particular drug. I have read and studied this subject a great deal. I did not see the Report and hear of this subject for the first time on the date of publication. I can assure the House that I have been into this with great care. What is proved, time and again, is that young people get on to hard drugs basically because they are in touch with other people who are drug takers in some form or other.
My mind boggles about the thought of licensing the sale of cannabis by the local tobacconist, off licence, or wherever it may be, thereby creating centres where 968 people will start on one drug and very easily move on to another. I would not be a party to this. After I had been at the Home Office for a month or two and seen something of this, I said that it would take a great deal to convince me that I should be in any way party to a lessening of offences, in isolation, on this particular matter. I have seen nothing since that has convinced me to the contrary.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the Opposition for giving us the opportunity of debating this subject. It is an important matter. I have tried to discuss it against a broader background, because I think that the country should know what it is up against. I have long since left behind me the thought, which is always the first reaction to a new evil, "Let us not talk about it, because if we do we may encourage others". There is an element of this kind in it.
On the other hand, I think that the drugs scene has now got to the point where the public should be aware of its potential dangers, should also know that those dangers have not yet spread widely; but that, if we are ignorant, if we are supine in the face of them, they can spread very fast indeed with grave dangers to the whole structure of our society.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman now has to go to Cardiff. However, I thank him very much for his comments, and also express my gratitude to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) for his magnificent speech. It is really a most important day for the House of Commons when both Front Benches, on a matter of such importance, can show to the people of the country that we at least march together.
I have listened to the arguments of those outside this House who have tried to persuade me and others that the smoking of cannabis is no more than a social pastime. It is quite true that this House is not a court of morals, but we have a responsibility for certain things—in particular, the moral welfare of society. Our first responsibility is to protect man from the excesses of his neighbour, and, 969 secondly, to make sure that evil does not flourish.
When I was a small child, before the war, a word which was constantly heard bandied about was "appeasement". It was then being used in the context of the enemy without and Nazi Germany. But I think that our society today is facing a situation when we may well go down in history as the great appeasers. We are accepting many kinds of social changes, not so much because we want them but merely because we believe that they are inevitable.
The word "inevitable" is perhaps the most dangerous word in the English language today—a feeling that there is little point in trying to draw attention to the problems which exist because, at the end of the day, the world will take its course and the smoking of "pot" will become a normal pastime. I do not subscribe to the inevitability of what must happen to our social order in this country, and I am not an appeaser to allow people to have their lives ruined by something which can be stopped by law.
Coming to the problem of cannabis resin, we find straight away that it is a commodity which produces all kinds of effects, many of them not dissimilar from alcohol, but many of which can, as has been pointed out earlier, lead the recipient to move on to other areas. I draw the attention of the House to the comment of the World Health Organisation, which stated thatCannabis is a drug of dependence, producing public health and social problems and its control must be continued.That is unequivocal, completely simple, and ready to be understood by everybody. This is a drug of dependence.
As has been pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend and by the Home Secretary, there are many cases to support the belief that cannabis is merely the first step. I was, therefore, disturbed to read, on page 16 of the Report, at paragraph 67, thatThe evidence before us shows that:'An increasing number of people, mainly young, in all classes of society are experimenting with this drug, and substantial numbers use it regularly for social pleasure.'There is no evidence that this activity is causing violent crime or aggressive antisocial behaviour, or is producing in other 970 wise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis, requiring treatment.I should have thought that those comments were in direct contradiction to the comment of the World Health Organisation.
Paragraph 87 says something which is just as disturbing in this context, namely, thatIn considering the scale of penalties our main aim, having regard to our view of the known effects of cannabis, is to remove for practical purposes, the prospect of imprisonment for possession of a small amount and to demonstrate that taking the drug in moderation is a relatively minor offence. Thus we would hope that juvenile experiments in taking cannabis would be recognised for what they are, and not treated as anti-social acts …I regard that comment as highly dangerous. We all know that one of the problems of cannabis is that its smoking tends to be a social act. We could be sitting in a room among friends and someone could pull out a reefer and say, "Let us have a smoke". Some people in the room may well have smoked it before and others may not have, but the latter, for a number of reasons—because they wished to try it, or did not wish to seem out of things—would smoke it.
It is at this inexperienced or, perhaps, youthful level that the greatest danger exists. For the Report to suggest that its trial by young people is something that should be dismissed as unimportant because it merely amounts to young people having a go at anything is the most dangerous premise on which to build any sort of legislation on drug taking.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
That is a relevant point. I am saying that that young person should not be at risk. Cannabis should not be something that is pulled out of a pocket at a party and handed round as a social experiment. It should be made quite clear that the possession of cannabis and its use in the way I have described is a serious crime, and that a young person would be better advised to walk out of such a party and report the person who tried to corrupt him, 971 because it is just in that way that the spreading of the habit goes on.
During the weekend I asked somebody, "If 'pot' were available here tonight, would you try it?" and she replied, "Yes, I would." We are dealing here with a highly dangerous matter which cannot be left to people at a party to decide whether or not a young person should smoke cannabis.
Then there is the anodyne comment about cannabis and alcohol—the suggestion that they have a similar type of effect and that one is only an extension of the other. I have met people from the Caribbean who have suggested that I might drink alcohol and that they might smoke ganja. Two wrongs do not make a right, and we have more than enough on our hands already with the problems of alcohol and its side effects than to try to relate these two things together and say, "Cannabis is a little anti-social, but do not let us worry about it." That would be a dangerous road down which to go.
Although the smoking of cannabis is a very old tradition, many of the facts and figures available in Britain and the Western world as a whole are limited. There are reasons for this. But we have now become more conscious of this problem than in the past, and there is probably a need for further research. With all social legislation one has to face the fact that social conditions change, and it is very difficult to say that we can pass a law today which will never be changed.
Therefore, we may have this sort of debate again in the not-too-distant future because, as attitudes and conditions change, we must prepare to be flexible and accept the change. It is now a comparatively rare crime to be caught in possession of cannabis. It is the occupation of a comparatively small minority. But lots of crimes are committed by small numbers of persons. Murder is a comparatively rare crime; it is almost a family affair. But it is highly dangerous and highly anti-social. That is why I was among the small minority in the House that voted for the retention of capital punishment. That is neither here nor there—but although the smoking of cannabis is also a minority problem at the moment it could become a majority 972 problem, and we want to ensure that it does not.
As Members of Parliament we have a responsibility for health and social order in our society, and the Under-Secretary of State and his Department already have major problems on their hands. They are facing organised hooliganism, and I have no doubt that they have more than enough to worry about already. I assure them that any strengthening which they require I shall gladly support, because I believe that we have to keep a reasonably firm rein on our society if we do not want it to get out of control.
We have to protect young people, as I have to protect my three daughters. I have been enormously encouraged by the fact that today both Front Benches have shown their determination to do this. As a nation we can either roll with the punch and do what the Americans call "going down on the toboggan", or we can draw the line. I want to draw the line.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)
I was one of the people who was asked to sign the SOMA advertisement in The Times. I saw fit not to do so, and nothing that I have since learned has persuaded me that I was wrong. Only one thing has given me cause for doubt. I have been sorry to witness the complacency of the House in its reference to the Wootton Report. One would imagine that this Report had been compiled without any regard for the facts, or any assessment of evidence placed before it by witnesses. One would have thought that it had been compiled by a group of nonentities, with an inability to judge and discriminate with a sense of social responsibility.
Nothing is further from the truth. This is a very authoritative Committee. It includes some extremely well-qualified doctors, and it was led by a social scientist of international repute—the noble Lady, the Baroness Wootton of Abinger, in the light of whose achievements we ought to be a little less cavalier in our ready dismissal of what the Report has to say. To listen to what has been said this afternoon—even in the, as always, highly intellectual speech of the right 973 hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)—one would have thought that the Report consisted of a demand for immediate legalisation of cannabis. This is absolute rubbish. Not only is it rubbish: it is an insult to the intelligence of this House and the country.
Just to annoy the House a little, I propose to refer, as no one else has done, to some of the recommendations of the Wootton Report. People who have heard this debate up to now would be amazed, but it starts by saying:We recommend that in the interest of public health, it is necessary for the time being to maintain restrictions on the availability of cannabis.To listen to hon. Members, including the Secretary of State, one would imagine that the Committee had not said anything of the sort, but that the whole cast of the Report directly contravened that.
The Report goes on to say:Every encouragement, both academic and financial, should be given to suitable projects for enquiry …andThe law should progressively be recast to give Parliament greater flexibility of control …".It adds:The association in legislation of cannabis with heroin and other opiates is inappropriate …".It does not say, "We are certain that there is no connection between cannabis smoking and heroin taking". Who can be certain of that? What it does say—I had hoped that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone would be able to deal with this—is that the association of a soft drug and a hard drug under the same curtain of legislation is inappropriate.
There is then a number of recommendations, some of them dealing with the restriction on the availability of cannabis. However, there is one point—I hope that, through my absence from the Chamber, I will not repeat something already said by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—which merits attention in paragraph 90. Although I would not sign the Soma advertisement, I agree fully with the Committee's Report and the tone of this single extract from that paragraph: 974It is our explicit opinion that any legislation directed towards a complex and changing problem like the use of cannabis cannot be regarded as final. For the foreseeable future, however, our objective is clear: to bring about a situation in which it is extremely unlikely that anyone will go to prison for an offence involving only possession for personal use or for supply on a very limited scale.Let us get right what the Committee was saying. It was saying, "We want to move, over the next period, so to educate public opinion that it will come to regard the personal use of a drug like cannabis in the same context as it should now regard the personal use of alcohol and cigarette smoking, namely, as the subject of condemnation but not of imprisonment." This is my reading of the Report and to distort it, as it has been distorted, I regret to say, by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone and the Home Secretary and, I have no doubt, as it will be by others who follow me to express support for the control of drugs, is to be unfair to an authoritative and worthy Committee which has been courageous in what it has said and has been misrepresented totally by the Press and others who should know better.
I asked the right hon. and learned Member to distinguish between his list, which he evidently found so offensive, and the list of similar effects of alcohol. With a forensic skill which I never underestimate, he chose to avoid the question, and I want to answer it for him. The answer is that to distinguish between the effects, for most people, of an intake of cannabis and an intake of alcohol is extremely difficult. The psychological and pharmacological effects are similar.
Indeed, one of the reasons why I cannot go happily along with any attempt to legalise, in the fullest sense of encouraging, cannabis consumption, is that it has recognisable effects on judgment, perception and discrimination. In a world which is already full enough of sources of such ill-judgment, I see no reason to add to them or to encourage them. But, equally, I cannot go along with an umbrella which is so spread as to protect us equally from alcohol and cannabis and from the corruption and evil of heroin. This is the inappropriate-ness to which the Committee draws attention and it is this point which I felt that so eminent and admirable a legal practitioner as the right hon. and learned 975 Member for St. Marylebone would have dwelt on at greater length and in greater depth.
This situation is recognised by every Western industrial society, not least by our own, in which the consumption of cannabis is rising. Here, too, we have the threat of continued increase in heroin consumption. Let no one make any mistake about my view. There is no one in the House who is more anxious than I to see an end to the 30,000 and more deaths a year from cigarette smoking, and the only way we shall do that is by stopping people smoking.
No one is more anxious than I to end the corruption which follows the consumption of alcohol, and the only way in which we shall do that is, ultimately, by dissuading people from drinking too much. No one in the House is more aware than I of the utter squalor and horror of heroin addiction, or "dependence", if we want to be pedantic about it.
But the way in which we approach this problem does not accord with the black picture of B following ineluctably from A. It is true that there is no proof that cannabis consumption does not lead to heroin addiction, but, equally, there are lots of other accusations which might be made which would be just as hard to prove. The difficulty of proving a negative will be familiar to hon. Members.
What we do know is that the whole aura a few years ago of condemnation and avoidance of cannabis is changing. I have the good fortune from time to time to lecture to student groups on health education and it has, until recently, been my custom to say, "Put up your hands those of you who smoke cigarettes", and then to say, "Of those, how many know that it causes lung cancer?" It is a practical demonstration of the failure of otherwise intellectually well-equipped groups to bridge the gap between knowledge and action.
The interesting thing is that the numbers of cigarette smokers are diminishing, but I have now reached the point at which, if it were not for the moral and legal implications, I could ask that student group, "Which of you have smoked 'pot'?", in the confident expectation that a number of hands would go up.
976 I have discussed this matter recently with two young people from much the same part of London and of much the same social and academic background. One is now a teacher and the other a student. The teacher found herself at a party at which "pot" quite clearly was being circulated. Although she was regarded as a swinging, with-it, mini-skirted terror, she fled: she was appalled at the idea. The student was with a group of young people when "pot" appeared. People do not fish out reefers, with all respect to the hon. Member for the New Forest, but cigarettes are opened and a few grains of the dried cannabis leaf are inserted, and "pot" is smoked.
Nowhere is there any evidence, either from that student's experience or anywhere else, that this kind of social smoking differs materially from the social habit of taking a glass of whisky or, sometimes, too many glasses. There is no evidence that it leads on to sexual orgies: in fact, probably rather the reverse. Yet we are constantly having thrust before us this total distortion of the picture of cannabis smoking. That is not the picture we have to judge. What we must judge is whether there is a recognisable social threat in "pot" smoking, and, if so, what is the appropriate measure to combat it.
The important thing that is happening now is not that the law is being flouted, though it is. When Peter Sellers can say, "I smoke 'pot' because I derive certain benefits and pleasures from it", what greater flouting of the law can there be? I am not advocating that he should immediately be taken into custody. The important thing is not that the law is being flouted, but that despite the existence of the law, which the hon. Member for New Forest wants to strengthen, society is changing its attitude and practices. Our responsibility here is to recognise those changes, so far as possible to influence them, but not to indulge in the kind of fantasy we have heard and which I predict we shall hear more of in the debate.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, particularly his example of the fleeing teenager in her mini-skirt, will he say whether he feels that that sort of party is a good thing?
§ Dr. Kerr
I do not think that it is possible to attach a value judgment to that kind of party. If, for example, a person goes to such a party and smokes "pot"—I make it plain that I have not done so yet—drives home safely, sleeps, wakes up and goes to work next day, I cannot see that that is more worthy of society's condemnation than the sort of party to which many of us have been, where too much alcohol is consumed, we make a disgusting exhibition of ourselves on the pavement outside, drive home dangerously, and perhaps kill somebody, maybe ourselves. Yet society has only very recently begun timidly to take steps to condemn that kind of party. I do not recall that the hon. Member for New Forest was in the forefront of condemning that kind of thing. He was not one of the leaders.
To ask me to attach any kind of social judgment to a simple act which of its nature is not evil, but which could be followed by evil consequences, is only to invite me to judge the consequences and then to attach the value to the act itself. This does not seem to me to be a reasonable way to proceed in our judgments.
I do not know where all the John Knoxs are springing from to say that the arrival at a point of pleasure must be condemned. It is not the fact that cannabis can produce pleasurable results that should lead us in some Presbyterian fashion to condemn. What we must condemn, if they are there to condemn, are the consequences of a continued widespread growth of hemp smoking. We have not nearly enough evidence about this.
Reference is constantly being made to the hashish consumption in Egypt and Tunisia. Why is it that these underdeveloped, poverty-ridden countries have a hashish problem, when Israel, with exactly the same climatic and agricultural conditions, has none to speak of? What is the curious social difference that makes these countries have different experiences? How can we dare to extrapolate the pharmacological and social experience of Egyption fellaheen to the industrial workers and students of Great Britain and America?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan):
Would my hon. Friend admit that in 1967, the last year for which we have 978 figures for European countries, the total amount of cannabis seized here—295 kilograms—was exceeded in only one other European country, Spain?
§ Dr. Kerr
I hope that when my hon. Friend replies he will not confine himself to quantities. It is not the quantity consumed—not even, perhaps, the quantity consumed per head—to which I am now directing the attention of the House.
It is the influence of our social climate, our nutrition and our whole ethos in these matters, that in very large part determine the entirely different response to "pot" smoking as compared with the experience of under-nourished, often starving, people with no hope in their life, against a background of many thousands of years of this kind of practice. How can anyone extrapolate into our own kind of society the experience to which I expect hon. Members may be going to refer?
§ Captain W. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that the effect, of cannabis was different in different societies. Has he personally seen the effects in, say, Egypt, as I have?
§ Dr. Kerr
No, but I am certainly postulating that in different societies such practices have very different effects. In an individual the consumption of alcohol may produce different effects, depending on whether he takes it after dinner or before breakfast. The problem with which the House must grapple is not whether the hon. Gentleman gets more drunk before breakfast than after dinner, but what is the threat to society that emanates from the more widespread use of cannabis.
The Report that we are discussing says that we do not know, and the Wootton Committee says that in the light of our ignorance about the threat, which implies that the threat must not be very obvious or very great, we should examine it; that until it is proved it is inappropriate to punish the "pot" smoker with imprisonment, when all he is doing is smoking "pot", and that there is as much rational argument and logic for punishing the cigarette smoker or alcoholic, which we do not do. I am not advocating that we should, but that society should take a more responsible attitude to all these manifestations of the changes taking place in society today.
979 It is with that last point that I wish to leave the House. It is because society is changing so rapidly that we find it difficult to grasp those changes. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone grumbled that we now have to amend recent legislation. He should not waste his time grumbling. The very swift changes in society, our mores, and practices, particularly among the dynamic young people, will impose on the House a constant re-examination of legislation. We must not be fearful of amending it, in the light of need. Perhaps we need to speed up our procedures a little, for otherwise we shall be left even further behind than we are now. We must recognise that because of the revolution in communications and knowledge society will change much more quickly in the next 10 years that it has during the past 10 years. This is the social dynamic of today. I am very sorry to discover that the hon. Member for New Forest who, I had always assumed, was young and "with it", is among the hoary grey-beards.
There are many young people capable of rational and discriminating judgment who are prepared to experiment with new sensations and adventures, because the world of today does not offer the same sensations and adventures of even the world of 20 years ago. If there is any attribute of being young, it is the need for new adventure and new experience. Perhaps one of the reasons why we have a permissive society is that there are new ideas in the way we approach one another and behave towards one another and ourselves. But that is too wide a subject to embark on now.
I am grateful for having been called so early in the debate so that I can ask those who follow me to address themselves to what the Wootton Sub-Committee really said—not to what they think it said, or what the Daily Telegraph said that it said, but to the document—and to read it with the same kind of perception as that eminent Committee gave to a very grave and important social problem, with which the House must attempt to deal.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I, too, am glad to have been called early in the 980 debate and I am pleased of this opportunity to speak following the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr).
I suggest that the House had not misunderstood the Wootton Report. We appreciate that the Wootton Sub-Committee performed a useful job in a dangerous sphere. We disagree, however—this is certainly the view of many hon. Members—with the recommendation that the present penalties for any offence dealing with cannabis should be altered. I fear that the Report and speeches like that just made by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, considered in the context of the present argument, will be taken as making the smoking of cannabis respectable.
I wish to make my position clear, as should any hon. Member when speaking on a topic such as this. I have never smoked cannabis, but I reckon that I am well hooked on tobacco and alcohol. If, with all the knowledge that we now possess about the dangers of tobacco, we were debating that subject when tobacco was first introduced into our society—when it was at more or less the same stage in our society as cannabis is today—I would say the same about tobacco as I am saying about cannabis, which is that it would be evil and wrong to reduce the penalties until we know more about it.
Hon. Members who speak with far greater knowledge of this matter than I have will agree that in some other societies the smoking of cannabis has been a great social evil, has become addictive and has led to increasing crime. I am more influenced by the Report of the World Health Organisation than I am by Lady Wootton's Report.
We in this country are fortunate in having only recently come up against this problem. Some time ago I was speaking to Sir Harry Greenfield, the Chairman of the Narcotics Board. I pay tribute to the work of that Board because the discoveries which it has made have alerted us to the dangers of narcotics and we are now much better informed on the subject than we were 20 or 30 years ago.
It has been made clear that we are considering a problem which affects not only the United Kingdom, but the whole 981 world. We live in a well-organised, kindly and probably the best run society in the world and what we do about this subject will greatly influence what is done by many of the developing nations. They want our support and encouragement so that they act on lines which will keep drugs under control in their countries. I fear that the sort of Report which we are discussing, and the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, will make not just our job, but theirs, more difficult.
The Western world is in danger, in its present handling of drugs—not merely cannabis and the somewhat harder drugs, but drugs generally—of destroying itself by its own cleverness. Perhaps cannabis is the smallest danger, but I suggest that it is the small sherry on the way to the large Scotch. Considering the enormous number of artificial hard drugs that are being invented and getting into circulation, as the Home Secretary pointed out—and as far as I can see, they are not under control—we in the Western world face a dangerous position.
I was impressed by what the Home Secretary said about the need for an overall code of conduct within which he and the police can work. Although I am a great believer in the rule of law. I am particularly worried about the way in which the position changes so quickly these days. A new drug can be invented in a laboratory today and before we have knowledge to tackle its effects it has a grip on many addicts and is a social problem. We need faster acting machinery than at present exists to deal with this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that he supported the retention of hanging. When one considers some of the latest inventions in the hard drugs sphere—I refer not to heroin but to artificial drugs—those who invent them, not for medical but for evil purposes, are committing a crime even worse than murder, for people who become addicted to them are on their way not just to a short life but to a long and agonising illness before they eventually die. The House should devote more attention to the need for machinery to deal with this rapidly expanding, vast and dangerous problem.
§ Sir D. Glover
At this time I would not alter the penalties at all because I do not believe that we have sufficient knowledge to make such a change.
I appreciate the thinking behind the Wootton Report and I am not completely hostile to that thinking. Nevertheless, if somebody persuades me today to smoke a reefer and it is found at a later date that I am smoking heroin, can it definitely be said that there is not a link between what I have done today and what I will do in the future? I do not pretend to be an expert on this subject. The whole of our permissive society is so worrying that I would be prepared to leave the law, including the penalties under it, as it is.
In our discussion of this subject we tend to overlook the fact that we are talking of maximum penalties. A magistrate will not send a girl who has smoked half a reefer to jail for 10 years. He merely has the power to do so. Magistrates and others dealing with these matters are experts and can assess whether a person is a pedlar and pusher or a habitual or casual smoker. They know whether people have come into the possession of these drugs by accident or for commercial profit.
I am prepared, as long as our laws are right, to leave the administration of those laws to the courts. I have not read in the newspapers of even the pushers being sent to jail for 10 years, and perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will say what maximum penalties have been imposed in the last three or four years.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
It might be of assistance if I tell the House that the Report quotes figures for 1966, when, apparently, 17 persons were given sentences, on indictment, of between two and five years.
§ Sir D. Glover
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful for having that redrawn to my attention. That is the point. Are we quite certain that the next case in the courts will not be of the Pooh-Bah, the big organiser, to whom the courts and the nation would like to give the maximum penalty? The courts 983 obviously have been dealing with this problem in a warding sentences of between two and five years. If they could impose a higher penalty, is it not a good thing to have it in reserve in case a worse case comes along during the next two years? I do not think, therefore, that the Wootton Sub-Committee has made the case for deliberately altering the penalties.
Even the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, speaking with his authority as a doctor, is not prepared to be dogmatic that there may not be side effects or that there may not be cause and effect between soft drugs and heroin and the other hard drugs. With all his experience, the hon. Member is not prepared to say that that is not so. If that is the case, I am sure that Parliament would be wrong to accept the recommendation of the Committee and reduce the penalities.
Penalties mean to the general public that, if people are caught doing this, it is a serious business because the maximum penalty is so much but that, if they are caught doing something which has a smaller penalty, it is a much more minor offence because the maximum penalty is less. When we are trying to persuade, perhaps unsuccessfully, the younger element of the nation to stop experimenting and trying to see whether they can get greater kicks out of life—and I can understand that among young people—it is wrong, at this moment, deliberately, with all the panopoly of Parliament—Second Reading, Committee stage, Report, and so on—with all the publicity of the Press, to have the impression conveyed that Parliament has deliberately said, "Go ahead with this. It cannot be very serious, because we are reducing the maximum penalty from 10 years to 12 months." That must inevitably have an effect upon people's thinking.
The hon. Member for Wandsworth. Central spoke about the mini-skirted girl who ran away. Probably she would not have run away if the maximum penalty had been 12 months, because the effect on her mind after talking with her chums would be, not that she was prepared to go to gaol for 12 months, but that the penalty was not nearly as big and therefore, it was not nearly as big a crime.
984 I think that far more young people would be prepared to have a go, as it were, with trying cannabis if we reduced the penalties. If that were to happen, I am certain that not necessarily with heroin, but with all the other drugs that can be attractively presented by the pusher, a person who gets into the habit of regularly smoking cannabis would stand in grave danger of finishing up later in life as a confirmed addict on one of the hard drugs of which we have been talking today. Therefore, this is one of the occasions when Parliament should not be in advance of public opinion. I think that we have a great mass of public opinion behind us in saying that we will not alter the penalties. We should not be the people who push public opinion to change its mind in a more progressive way.
I always regret—the Home Secretary mention this expression today—that instead of talking about a permissive society, we do not talk about a responsible society. I remember that in 1959 I wanted the Conservative Party to fight the General Election on the slogan, "A responsible society". I wish that it had done so, because I believe that the greatest need of the nation—and not only of this nation, but of the whole Western world—is not to produce a society to break up, but is to get back a sense of responsibility, control and discipline.
In that setting, we should resist the modern vogue that anything goes, that a person who ruins himself or herself does not have a great effect on other people and that that has nothing to do with society as a whole. This House should stand firm tonight and say that we want to produce a responsible society and, therefore, we reject the recommendations of the Wootton Report.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
I respond with pleasure to the challenge of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and say immediately that I drink alcohol. I have not smoked cigarettes for some years and I have not smoked cannabis.
I listened with some regret to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He said that he spoke not only for himself and the Opposition Front Bench, but for the whole House. 985 That, of course, is not true. He does not speak for me. He did not speak for my non. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and he also did not speak for my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who was appointed by the Government to the Advisory Committee and who has written me to say that he cannot be in the House today. But he says:'I do, however, agree with its"—the Committee's—"recommendations fully.I suggest, therefore, to my right hon. Friend that there are a number of hon. Members who fully agree, as I do, with the Committee's findings.
I listened, as we all do, with great pleasure to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). If I am in the Library, and he gets up to speak, I always rush in to hear him. I rarely agree with what he says, but I am always impressed by his manner and his matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said—and I gathered by the nods which the hon. Member for Ormskirk received from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman who is to reply, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), that he agrees—that it should be left to the courts.
Let us see what the courts have done. The hon. Member for Ormskirk seemed to suggest that they had acted with tolerance, intelligence and objectivity and had differentiated between young first offenders and those who pushed the drugs in large quantities.
The Advisory Committee's Report states, in paragraph 80:About a quarter of all cannabis offenders were sent to prison (or borstal, detention centre, or approved school); only about 13 per cent. were made subject to a probation order; and about 17 per cent. of first offenders were sent to prison.Now we come to the wisdom of the courts:There was notably other dangerous drugs, but less use of probation and conditional discharge for possession of cannabis than for possession Either of other dangerous drugs or of amphetamines"—
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The bon. Member has missed out a line. The House would follow him better if 986 he read what he says he is reading. He has omitted the line which begins "greater emphasis on fines".
§ Dr. Gray
I beg pardon. My omission was not intentional. I will start the sentence again:There was notably greater emphasis on fines and imprisonment for possession of cannabis than of other dangerous drugs, but less use of probation and conditional discharge for possession of cannabis than for possession either of other dangerous drugs or of amphetamines and other 1964 Act drugs.That was the wisdom of the courts.
I listened to the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who spoke of his three daughters. If they went to a party and smoked cannabis for the first time, would he think it just and reasonable if they were sent to prison, as 17 per cent. of young people were? Is it suggested that prison cures this habit or contributes to the education of young people sent there? Surely all our experience shows quite the contrary. This is one of the reasons why I support the findings of the Wootton Sub-Committee. The Committee said, quite rightly, that young people found in possession of small amounts of cannabis should be fined, and not sent to prison.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone seemed to think that it was only my idea that a distinction should be made between possession for use and possession for supply. This is not so. In the reservation entered by Mr. Michael Schofield he said at page 36, paragraph 5:Like my colleagues I would like to distinguish more clearly between possession intended for use and possession intended for supply. Unlike them I think this distinction should be written into the law. I think it would be preferable to base the distinction on the quantity found in possession. Accordingly I suggest that:
- (1) Illicit possession of up to 30 grams, leaves or resin, should be a summary offence only, punishable on a first or subsequent conviction by a maximum fine of £50.
- (2) Illicit possession of any amount larger than 30 grams should be punishable
- (a) on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months;
- (b) on conviction on indictment a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.The existing provision under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. whereby proceedings on indictment can only be instituted by or with 987 the consent of the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions, should be retained.This is a plea for a more sophisticated law. Many hon. Members would agree with me that it is not reasonable to lump heroin and cannabis together. We have heard, from the extract that I have read, that the courts have not behaved differentially in the treatment of offenders, as one would expect from their accumulated wisdom. Therefore I suggest that the law needs altering in this connection. One hon. Member seemed to suggest that there was not more need for research. Of course there is. The Committee says that, whereas the world picture points to there being no escalatory factor as between the smoking of cannabis and heroin, more research is needed, and some should be undertaken in this country.
I would also draw the Government's attention to the existence of different sub-cultures throughout the country. Medical experts in Norfolk tell me that, whereas "pot" is smoked in Norwich, they have no knowledge of it being smoked elsewhere in the county, though there is addiction to amphetamine in King's Lynn, and barbiturates in the town of Great Yarmouth. We need to know why these differences arise. Is it due to the way in which local doctors prescribe drugs or are there other factors and reasons?
I refer, because no other speaker has, to the generation factor. As a university teacher before I came to this House, I continually came into contact with young people. The argument that they always put forward was that it was not a sufficient answer to say that alcohol is a drug that has been with us for hundreds of years, to which we have come to terms, and so on. They can also now point to this Report, saying that cannabis taken in moderation is less harmful than alcohol.
Although there are other medical opinions, the Report says quite clearly, rightly or wrongly—and there were 10 medical experts on the Committee among those who expressed these views—that cannabis is not addictive from a physical viewpoint, and that no withdrawal symptoms are shown. Young people who read this Report understand this. Are they not entitled to stand up 988 and ask "Is it just or reasonable that we should be sent to prison for a first offence when this is the expert view?"
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Is not my hon. Friend's criticism that the courts have not acted with discretion? There is ample power for a court in appropriate circumstances to impose a lesser penalty than imprisonment.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that it is not for Parliament to give any direction at all.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
As one who has to impose sentences I decline to take orders from any Government or Report, unless through legislation or some other form.
§ Dr. Gray
I did not suggest that any orders should be given. I simply hoped that observations would be made, and taken note of by those responsible for sentences. Otherwise one is driven back, not to saying, as the hon. Member for Ormskirk said, "Leave it to the wisdom of the courts", but one must demand from the Government that they accept the recommendations of this Committee and weaken the penalties.
I found the Home Secretary's argument, as did the Daily Telegraph—no supporter of a permissive society—extremely curious. He seemed to think that if the penalties were lessened this meant that in some strange way the Government were encouraging drug-taking. This is absolutely absurd. It is as though one were saying that when the penalty of hanging was abolished for sheep stealing the Government of the day were encouraging sheep stealing.
My argument rests on this basic point, that sending young people to prison for offences of this kind is completely useless. Probation should be used, hospitalisation or perhaps in some cases approved 989 schools, but prison never. I can see no use in the Committee producing what seems to be a balanced Report if it is not to be listened to. At present when a young person is found in possession of a small quantity of this drug, the law is barbarous, savage, 19th century and should be changed. I hope that the Government spokesman will address himself to this point in his reply.
I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone replied to my point, made at the beginning of the Committee's Report on the subject of when legislation should be introduced to curb self-destruction and self-hurtfulness. The Committee, with some reason, draws attention to the fact that 12,000 people, more than half the total of young men between the ages of 15 and 19 who ride motor cycles, were killed by this lethal instrument, yet were not protected in any way from possessing them.
There seems to be no consistent principle in law in protecting the individual from himself, as the Report suggests. We are no longer punished for attempting to commit suicide in our society, and a good thing too. I do, however, agree that the social consequences of drug taking are so grave that I would not proceed to legalisation of taking cannabis on the evidence we have at the moment.
Unlike the Home Secretary, who seemed to think that a half-way house Report was not acceptable, I believe that it to be the only humane and possible solution to the situation in which we find ourselves. The Report has now been rejected by both Government and Opposition Front Benches. I hope, as both opening speakers suggested, that they will look again at the whole question of the law in respect of these offences, and will see whether mitigating changes cannot be made and whether we cannot move on to a more sophisticated system of laws which will invoke the respect of all members of our society, including the young members, who under the present system, seem to be so unjustly penalised as compared with their elders.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) was speaking to an unsympathetic 990 House, but I am sure that he is too seasoned now to have been unduly put off by that. I feel for him in the badgering that he had to put up with. Although I think most of us would disagree with what both the—I think that the phrase is—"socially dynamic and swinging" doctors, the medical doctor the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and the academic doctor the hon. Member for Yarmouth, had to say, it is valuable for the House to have had put to it the argument in defence of the Report which we are discussing and to which the House as a whole is rightly hostile.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Yarmouth. I reflected, on reading this Report, that we should have one new verse in the National Anthem:God save us from the ruleOf the clever fool.It seems to me that this Report is so very clever and makes so many sophistical and specious points, but no one with any common sense would give two thoughts to its recommendations. I am glad to see that the House is inclined totally to reject them, that the Home Secretary has taken the line he as done, and that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) supported him as he did with his usual brilliance and wisdom.
The theme of the Wootton Report seems to be that if we cannot prove that something is a bad thing we ought not to do anything to discourage it. The main recommendation seems to be that there should be, to use the words of the Report, flexibility in the treatment of offences in respect of individual drugs. The general idea is that we are not sufficiently informed to be certain that "pot" is not entirely innocent and that we should, therefore, reduce the penalties in respect of offences concerned with "pot".
I think that the attitude of the Home Secretary is quite right, if I take his meaning correctly, that we should thereby be encouraging people to start on what may well be—we have no right to say it is not—the primrose path to drug addiction, addiction to hard drugs and heroin, if we minimise by legislation passed by this House the dangers of starting on that path.
991 I am profoundly unimpressed by paragraph 73 on page 18 of the Report, which sayss:It will be clear from this Report that there is still a great deal that we do not know about cannabis.and that thereby in some way the dangers ought to be regarded as not proven and that therefore the drug should be held to be innocent until proved guilty. I think that the burden of proof lies the other way round. This mania for research that inspires sociologists and armchair legislators fills me with misgiving. There is a lot that we do not know about water, but I have a pretty shrewd conviction, at any rate when I am in a boat, that it is wet and better kept out and better not got into. There is a lot that we do not know about fire, but I have a shrewd suspicion that it burns and, on the whole, I would give the benefit of the doubt against water and against fire when I am in a boat or if I am responsible for a house or anything like that.
The Home Secretary was right to be reluctant to accept the general emphasis and weight of this Report in favour of the "legalise 'pot'" lobby. Also, I cannot understand how a Committee of such responsible people should have seen any merit in wishing to lower the maximum statutory penalties for offences in respect of cannabis even if they thought that cannabis was harmless, or even if they were not sure that it was harmful. Surely it is a fundamental principle of English statute law that penalties are maxima and that it is for the courts to use their discretion in applying the maxima within the limits prescribed by statute.
The hon. Member for Yarmouth made great play, with reference to paragraph 80 on page 20 of the Report, with the fact that 17 per cent. of first offenders had been sent to prison and that few had been put on probation. But, of course, if these sentences were manifestly outrageous and unjust, it was for the convicted persons to appeal from one court right up to the House of Lords if it came to it. I speak subject to correction, and it is not made clear in the paragraph, but I do not think that has been done.
§ Dr. Gray
I do not think that I made myself clear. The point I was making 992 was that I did not think first offenders should be sent to prison at all if found in possession of cannabis. How could they appeal to any higher court against the sentence? All they could do would be to get the sentence reduced. I am opposing any imprisonment at all.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The question of any imprisonment at all of first offenders is another matter. We are talking about whether it is right for offenders guilty of offences in respect of cannabis to be sent to prison, irrespective of whether they are first offenders or not. If they are sent to prison they can appeal against sentence right up to the highest court that the law allows.
If they do not do that, the objection of the hon. Member for Yarmouth against the law which provides the maxima will not stick. They could have used the law to appeal against the sentence. It might be unfair to make any speculation about this, but I cannot help feeling that a first offender who is sent to prison for an offence under the present law and who does not appeal may well think that it would be just as well that the circumstances should be investigated no further. He may well think that he got off comparatively lightly.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
The hon. Gentleman is coming to a point which I had intended to raise. Would he not agree that it is extremely rare for first offenders to be sent to prison? Indeed, it is even rarer under the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, for a first offender to be sent to prison. Very often, if he is sent to prison, the courts have special reasons for doing so.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is very much my feeling. One cannot be sure that a first offender caught for the offence of possessing or pushing cannabis is not quite a big fish. The fact that is is the first time he is caught does not mean that he is an innocent fellow who has just come away from a party. It may be that the hon. Member for Yarmouth is being a little naïve.
I am not happy about recommendation (7), in paragraph 101, that the penalty for comparatively serious cannabis offences should have a maximum of no more than two years' imprisonment. This would mean that these who are 993 engaged in drug trafficking on a big scale and are not particularly concerned with cannabis could really laugh; they would not then be for the high jump at all. It is the duty of this House to give the courts power to impose the severest sentences when they see fit, in the confident expectation that they will use not only their humanity but their common sense and their experience to see that the punishment is made to fit the criminal, which is the guiding principle of sentencing.
The confusion in the mind of the hon. Member for Yarmouth, if I may say so, is that he fails to distinguish between penalty and sentencing. Sentencing is a question for the court, and the setting of the maximum penalty is a question for the House. I should not like to see the House usurp the function of the court.
Next, I am not inclined to dismiss as lightly as some are our international obligations in this respect. We ought not to brush aside too lightly the misgivings of responsible people in other nations or too lightly the fact that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone said, we have pledged our word that we shall not encourage the traffic in drugs. We were sensitive about breaking our pledged word in respect of Kenyan passport holders. Perhaps we ought to be a little more tender than the Report is inclined to be about breaking our word in respect of the international drug traffic, for which we should hold a large measure of responsibility if we did not maintain our defences at the highest possible level.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is a rather fine distinction. A little more emphasis by the hon. Member for Yarmouth on the importance of preventing an increase in the habit of drug taking altogether would be more becoming than his constant pushing towards legalising—
§ Mr. Iremonger
—what is, in fact, a drug or what can hardly be said to be a practice which will discourage people from getting into the company of the sort of persons who have drugs to push and 994 who wish others to become dependent on heroin and the hard drugs. I am much more anxious about our responsibilities than the hon. Gentleman seems to be.
The hon. Gentleman made great play of the argument about alcohol, about how young people feel that alcohol is just as filthy, just as disgusting, and possibly more dangerous, and how unfair it is that, just because we have, in his words, come to terms with alcohol, we do not make a similar effort to come to terms with "pot". In the first place, we have not come to terms with alcohol. Alcohol started a long time ago. We were not there then. We are here now.
§ The question is whether we should allow something to supervene on an already bad situation, that is, a situation in which alcohol is something controlled and accepted in society but has deleterious effects on many people, by allowing a new situation to develop in which other supposedly comparable drugs such as cannabis—and leading on to the harder drugs—could take a similar hold.
§ One ought not to argue from our acceptance of a situation which we did not create—a situation which is bad for society in which alcohol has a hold on a great many people—that we should go on to accept another bad state of affairs which we could, if we had the will, prevent and discourage by the legislation which we already have.
§ The Home Secretary rightly put to the House the contrast between the permissive society, which may have some merits in some respects, and a responsible society, the society in the spirit of which we are addressing ourselves to this Report. In considering the responsible society and the responsibilities of this House, I cannot help, in my position as an elected Member answerable to my constituents, paying serious regard to the feelings of parents in my constituency who have at school children of 13, 14 and 15, children who move about in a way in which previous generations of young people never moved about, open to influences which they are, perhaps, not entirely capable of standing up to, and who come home subtly changed—parents have said this to me—going off their food and not paying their usual attention to their work at school. It is then discovered, when it is too late to do anything about it, that they have got into 995 the habit of taking drugs—to the astonishment and appalled dismay of their parents.
§ It could hardly become us in this House or be worthy of our responsibilities if we said to parents who brought these problems to us, "We cannot prove that this is a bad thing, and we thought, on the whole, that because so many people get drunk, we ought not to do anything about people smoking 'pot' if they want to. You will find, on the whole, that your children will not be at any greater risk, if we reduce the penalties, and, after all, if they are, you cannot prove that there is any harm in it".
§ People would simply say, "The House of Commons is composed of clever fools. They have gone mad. They are completely out of touch with the anxieties and realities of life as it is lived in the constituencies among ordinary families. What do we elect these people for?". I am not prepared to put to my constituents the sophisticated academic drivel in this Report. I say that with great respect, but legislation should be done by legislators, and legislators should be subject to the strict discipline of frequent election and rejection by the electorate. Although from time to time we may ask the advice of medical men and—God help us—the 0dd sociologist, we ought to look at it with the greatest possible scepticism. That is how I look at this Report.
§ I am not moved, either, by philosophical reflections on liberty. On this side, we have, if anything, a more passionate devotion to liberty than is shown by some hon. Members opposite, but I feel that, when we are in doubt, we ought to give the benefit of the doubt, even if it impinges theoretically in some slight degree on personal liberty, to protecting the vulnerable members of society. To my mind, the most vulnerable members of society are those who are weak in will and young in experience, exactly those who are most susceptible to the machinations of people who are not concerned with whether they smoke pot or not but who are ultimately concerned to make a vast fortune by pushing heroin and the hard drugs.
§ We have not seen the beginning of this in our country. We have no real drug problem. Anyone who has been 996 to the United States and who knows what large-scale drug trafficking means in social terms will think very carefully before doing anything which might possibly unlock the door, let alone turn the latch and open it slightly in that direction.
§ I do not wish to close without referring to what the Home Secretary said about the rapid advances in the development of drugs unknown and undreamt of before and with effects which none of us understand. One of the most marvellous potential developments of this age is in the understanding of the biochemistry of the brain.
§ We are merely on the threshold of what is to be discovered, let alone what is to be understood and digested intellectually and spiritually, in that respect. No one can tell what lies ahead in the dangers of being able to manufacture drugs with comparatively simple resources or in controlling those who may be brought to suffer from them. I do not think that we can dismiss as entirely bad the developments which we envisage in the future. But we should not allow our awe at the mysteries which science may reveal to cause us to lose our foothold on the path of common sense, self-respect and social decency.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
I give my unqualified and absolute support to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his decision to reject the Report. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) and Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) are not representative of hon. Members on this side of the House and that my right hon. Friend's decision will be widely welcomed and overwhelmingly supported by people of all political parties and none.
The Report looks at the question of drugs from this point of view: what harm can they do? Never does it look at it from the point of view: what good does cannabis do? The Committee would be in a most difficult position if it looked at it from that angle, because no arguments are advanced in the Report, and no arguments have been advanced today, that cannabis does any good whatsoever. The nearest that we got to it were some remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central who talked, 997 strangely enough, about the dynamic young society which was seeking new experiences.
I would hardly say that it was characteristic of a dynamic young society for someone chemically to induce euphoria, and to sit in a crowd in such euphoria, seeking not to do things for others or to participate in life, but to withdraw from life. If there is any example of the dynamic young society, it is the mini-skirted, swinging teacher my hon. Friend talked about who walked out of the house in absolute disgust when she found a "pot" party going on.
It has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Yarmouth and Wandsworth, Central that we must consider the Report itself and not what we think it says. That is a fair challenge to any hon. Member who supports my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Recommendation (4), on page 33 of the Report, is:The association in legislation of cannabis with heroin and the other opiates is inappropriate and new legislation to deal specially and separately with cannabis and its synthetic derivates should be introduced as soon as possible.That recommendation clearly shows that the Committee must have been quite disingenuous.
Earlier in its Report, in paragraph 98, it said:Preliminary reports have suggested that some substances in this group "—that is, synthetic derivatives of cannabis—are more potent than the natural product".The Committee does not know. Nevertheless, it suggests that there should be separate legislation for separate drugs. That is a very difficult principle to operate in law. It would be very unwise for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to differentiate drugs in this way. If some derivatives are more potent than cannabis, but not quite as potent as heroin, are we to have other categories of drugs and separate penalties for them? The Committee has not thought through its own recommendation and what it would mean in law. My right hon. Friend has looked at it from that point of view.
Recommendation (9), on page 33, is:Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 (permitting premises to be used for smoking cannabis, etc.) should be redefined in scope so as to apply only to premises open to the public, to exclude the reference to dealing in cannabis and cannabis resin, and 998 to remove the absolute nature of the liability on managers.If that recommendation were accepted, the job of the police in dealing with the drug would be almost intolerable.
Did the Committee realise, as obviously my right hon. Friend does, that a club is not open to the public? Therefore, whereas the smoking of "pot" in a public house or cafe would be illegal, it would be legal, if the Committee's recommendation were carried out, in a private members' club, although it is virtually open to the public.
The worst recommendation is Recommendation (6):Possession of a small amount of cannabis should not normally be regarded as a serious crime to be punished by imprisonment.I do not blame the Press, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Maryle-bone (Mr. Hogg) did, or the television media when they looked at that recommendation and claimed that the Committee was seeking softer penalties in respect of cannabis and that we were not exactly supporting the smoking of cannabis, but not looking so savagely upon it.
The recommendation presumably is to differentiate between possessing cannabis for one's own use and possessing it to supply other people. The only figure which one finds in the Report is 30 grammes. The Committee does not recommend that figure in its tables and; it always draws a distinction between over and under 30 grammes. Did it seriously think through whether the recommendation would deal separately with the pusher and the user? If I were a pusher of cannabis and it was proposed that much more serious penalties should be imposed if I carried more that 30 grammes of it, I would make a lot of trips and would make sure that I never had more than 30 gramme on me; or, if I had it in premises, I would ensure that it was split among a number of premises. This is no answer when it comes to the difference between the supplier and user of cannabis.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) dealt very well with the position of the courts. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth to the table on page 22 of the Report. We should not forget that of the 1,109 people convicted in 1966, only 286 were sent to 999 prison. Of the rest, 613 were fined, and probation orders were made in 171 cases. There were 111 people conditionally or absolutely discharged. It is not the case that prison invariably results from a conviction for possessing this drug. The figures in the same table for 1964 and 1965 show that, although the number of convictions almost doubled, the number of imprisonments did not although it increased slightly. But the number of fines nearly doubled. Therefore, the courts are doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth wants them to do.
Let us consider the difficulty which a court may have. The court is the place in which it is decided how the law should be administered in the light of each individual offender and offence. It has the relevant evidence before it. We should not try to tie the hands of the court in differentiating between drugs and between users and suppliers. How can one prove conclusively in court that a man is a supplier and not a user of the drug?
It was mentioned earlier that a well-known actor, Peter Sellers, had stated that he had smoked the drug and enjoyed it. He should be ashamed of himself for making such a statement. He is respected and known as a famous comedian by many millions of people. I hope that he made that statement as a comedian, because, clearly, it should not be taken in any other context. However, when a court deals with a "pop" singer for being in possession of cannabis or for smoking or supplying it, it is in a very difficult position If it fines the average of £50 or about that figure, the law is unjust, because that "pop" singer may be earning £1,000 a week and will pay his £50 cheerfully.
In those circumstances, the court has little alternative but to impose a sentence of imprisonment. Very often it is set aside on appeal, but it does a lot of good when the initial court imposes imprisonment, because such a man is in a position of power to influence others, and if he is in a position of power he is also in a position of greater responsibility. A policeman convicted of larceny almost invariably goes to prison, no matter how small the amount, and whether or not it is a first offence. If a man responsible 1000 for the administration of money is found guilty of fraud, he too almost invariably goes to prison, even though a first offender.
The man with influence, particularly over millions of young people, is really doing a worse job by his advocacy of drugs, and advertising them by the fact that he uses them, than many a pusher who would be sent to prison for a longer period. The court which sentences famous people to imprisonment for using drugs, flouting the law, and encouraging young people and others to use them, do rightly. If that is the sort of thing the Committee opposes, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is absolutely right to reject the Report, to keep in Parliament's hands the political decision, and to say that we do not know enough about the use of cannabis to make any relaxations. We know from many social workers the inevitable conclusion that those on heroin and hard drugs have started on softer drugs, though perhaps not cannabis. It is very rarely that they go immediately to heroin.
I commend absolutely my right hon. Friend's very wise decision.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
In the three minutes' left to me, I want to make only one point. I find it difficult to understand why so many people, including commentators and the Wootton Sub-Committee, call for more research into the effects of cannabis. I can understand what the Home Secretary said about investigation into the general effect on society of all the new drugs being developed. But the effect on the individual of cannabis is very well known. Although research is always valuable, I am sure that we know enough to come to a decision on this drug.
I expect that many hon. Members saw Malcolm Muggeridge's letter in The Times. He had taught in Egypt, and he pointed out the archives of the old League of Nations must be full of information about the effects of cannabis on that country. There was also a letter from Camilla Sykes in The Times, daughter of Russell Pasha, the man who did so much for drug prevention in Egypt. She mentioned a film which must also be in the archives of the League of Nations. I wonder why the very distinguished 1001 Wootton Sub-Committee did not have at least some of this information at its disposal.
I can speak about my small personal experience in Egypt. In the Services, we went out on police patrols at times in the course of duty and often met the local police. Before the war, they would show us the addicts and say, "There is a hashish taker." The effect is lethargy, lack of will to work, and a gradual mental and physical degradation. The effects of cannabis are bad. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Yarmouth to say that when it is taken in moderation they are not bad. The essential of drug taking is that one has to take more and more to have the same effect. In the end, it brings you down.
The Home Secretary referred to the permissive society, and how much he would prefer it to a responsible society. A permissive society is all very well, if, after due and proper consideration, one permits something to be done. But when, because a problem is becoming so difficult, one allows it to overwhelm one, and beats a retreat, that is pure abrogation of responsibility.
That was the first time I have heard a Minister of the present Government take his stand to stem the tide of the so-called permissive society instead of swimming with it. I am greatly encouraged by that and wish him the best of luck.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
It would be very 0dd if this somewhat reactionary Tory appeared at the Dispatch Box to defend the Baroness Wootton and her colleagues against a Labour Home Secretary's charge of being too permissive. That is not my intention. I am impressed and heartened by the formidable alliance between my right hon. and learned learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and the Home Secretary this afternoon. I am perfectly prepared to accept that, on balance, they reflect the mood of the House and the majority of the country.
On balance, I naturally think that the Wootton Sub-Committee was justified by the scientific evidence for the view it took. If thought otherwise, I should have entered a reservation on the Report. Equally, the Home Secretary has an abso- 1002 lute right on wider grounds to reject its main recommendation, even if one or two of his reasons seem to be questionable, and the House has a duty to support that sort of decision. The Home Secretary was absolutely right when he spoke of the distinction between the background of the laboratory and the background of a sense of public values. That is really what the debate has been about.
I do not think that the Committee has any need of defence from me. In any case, it would be improper. One's duty here lies to the House, and not to any Committee. But I would say one word about the Report. Some of the judgments passed on the committee and the Report owe something to a trick of our trade. If one disagrees with somebody, it is often helpful slightly to misrepresent what he has said before attacking it. In this sense, some of the words used by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) sounded unusually musical to me. He made a fair point in defence of members of the Committee.
Those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), believe that they took leave of their senses in putting forward the recommendation that they made, should be reminded that their findings are not internationally singular. They are pretty much in line with conclusions reached quite lately in reports published in America and Canada, where cannabis is prevalent and troublesome, and where it is regarded socially very much as we regard it here. I shall not make many selective quotations from either report, one of which is part of the monumental report on law enforcement made to the President of the United States in 1967. Perhaps one will suffice to indicate what I mean when I say that the Committee has not acted uniquely. The American report says:There appears to be good reason to moderate present punitive legislation so that penalties are more in keeping with what is known about the risks; that is, they are not great.That may well be disputed, but that appeared in the definitive American report, and the Canadian Addiction Research Foundation, which is probably one of the most considerable bodies of its kind in the world, offered the same view from Ontario.
1003 Many of the arguments which have been aired since the Committee reported and in the debate this afternoon, including some offered with great fervour by my right hon. and learned Friend, have been addressed against legalising cannabis. Of course, any such move can be and ought to be annihilated, for international if not for moral reasons, but it is fair to remind the House that that was not the move proposed by the Wootton Sub-Committee. It sought to reassess the place of this drug in the scale of narcotic and psychotropic drugs.
I must add that in no country, so far as I know, have any of the sort of recommendations which I have quoted been followed by any change in the law, and it is fair to say so because it abundantly justifies the line which the Home Secretary was taking, that there will be a division between those who view these things from the medical, scientific and laboratory point of view and those who have a responsibility to the public. Therefore, I absolutely accept, and I think that we must accept, that this is a subject in which governments have every right to differ from technical committees, and that the House of Commons has a duty to endorse those differences.
I thought that the Home Secretary was on less sure ground when he appeared to argue that if we did not want to increase the use of cannabis, it was foolish to reduce the penalties. Not all the arguments we have heard today have been quite in line with some of the arguments which we heard when we were debating the proposals of the Wolfenden Report, for example. What we are arguing about is not whether there should be penalties—that is agreed—but what penalties will prove most effective.
If the Home Secretary argues, as he appeared to argue when he made his announcement, "the higher the better", he is questioning some part of our recent approach to penology, including the Criminal Justice Act, to which his predecessor at the Home Office gave his hand. Moreover, the higher penalty will not necessarily be the most effective if it appears to too many people to be out of line with the facts. This is an argument which must be weighed by the House.
We may not find it easier to persuade our young people to accept the truth 1004 about dangerous drugs—and it is tremendously important that we should be able to persuade them—if we are not quite truthful about one of them, if we are not quite truthful in the light of what we think we know—and our knowledge is never finite in these matters—about one of them.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) felt that we knew enough about cannabis—and this was a topic raised by my right hon. and learned Friend—and asked what was the need for further exploration and further research. One short answer is that research in these matters is never finite and continues indefinitely, but another answer is surely, if we take the example of tobacco, that we have found that it is possible suddenly to discover something about a drug which has not hitherto been suspected for a great period of years. In other words, I do not believe that there is ever a point when we can leave research and believe that we have all the answers we need.
I appreciate the force of the proposition that we do not want to encourage another vice, whatever may be the relationship of "pot" to tobacco and to alcohol. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was absolutely right when he said that two wrongs did not make a right. The argument that "pot" may be no worse than alcohol or no worse than smoking is the weakest possible argument which its proponents could put forward. Where there may be a difference and certainly where the Home Secretary differs from the Committee is about the best way to discourage what is undeniably a vice.
The need for the social acceptance of any particular law has been argued more than once in this place and I shall not rehearse that argument again, but there is a further argument in relation to this drug. From the evidence which was before the Committee and all of which I saw I formed the view that there was a strong element of social defiance in this cult, perhaps a stronger element of social defiance than in the use of any other drug. That is thoroughly dangerous. I am not convinced that we shall diminish such defiance, and that it is possible that we shall accentuate it, with penalties which appear to be unjustified. That at least is a matter which the House ought to weigh.
1005 I turn to other and stronger grounds on which the Home Secretary based his decision. He thinks that we shall need to strengthen the Government's hand and to make it flexible enough to meet new situations as they arise. I am sure that he is right about that. Our legislative apparatus for dealing with this constantly changing epidemic is hopelessly ponderous, and hon. Members will agree that we seem constantly to be shutting stable doors.
While the Wootton Sub-Committee was dealing with cannabis and the House of Commons was changing the law about heroin, in one sense we were overtaken by a much bigger potential menace to which the Home Secretary referred this afternoon, namely, intravenous methyl-amphetamine. Certainly, in terms of violent crime, this is the most serious development in drugs which we have yet encountered. As the Home Secretary said, it is a most disturbing development. This illustrates the difficulty which may not have been sufficiently recognised by my right hon. and learned Friend when he stressed the need for a stable law and by the Home Secretary when he said that we should not keep fiddling about with the law.
This is absolutely right, but amphetamine as recognised and as prescribed by the million tablets to patients is one thing and may appropriately fall under the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1964, while amphetamine suddenly discovered as a drug which can be intravenously injected to produce an entirely different effect is quite another. That is the sort of thing which can happen very quickly and take us unawares. This is the difficulty of creating any law which will have the respectability of stability.
As the Home Secretary said, this outbreak has been held temporarily by voluntary agreement. But it will not be the last. I do not want to appear to be a Cassandra, but it may be that the next epidemic from which we shall suffer will be a hypnotics epidemic as Japan is now having, and there are already some signs of it.
There is room to argue how much of this new approach which I am sure we must have is best achieved by the flexible legislation which the Home Secretary has in mind and how much requires stronger 1006 professional disciplines—no hon. Member will overlook the importance of strong professional disciplines, whether medical or pharmacological or any of the other associated professions, to combat this menace—and we shall probably need both. But I doubt whether even that will be enough.
A society—and we are not the only one—which feels the need for mood changing drugs and finds them abundantly available, some, unlike marijuana, quite legitimately available on prescription, poses a very large problem, and we would be mistaken if we believed that law enforcement would be enough. I believe that there is no way other than doggedly going on seeking out fresh knowledge, new techniques, new understanding.
As we have discovered from the Report, not all the results of this quest will be to our liking; many results will be condemned as offering the wrong example and pointing society in the wrong direction. But it should be acknowledged that when they come from responsible people in no sense influenced by a lobby of one kind or another they at least help to illuminate what I fear is likely to be a very long road before us.
More often than not findings of this sort will lead to argument, as this Report has done. I am not convinced that that is necessarily harmful; it is how democracy sustains itself and keeps itself at least moderately healthy. Democracies cannot confine their diet to unassailable statements of which everyone approves. That is not the way in which to resolve difficult arguments of this kind.
It is in that context that I see, and I hope that hon. Members will see, the work of the Wootton Sub-Committee, and it is towards that process that it has made a valuable contribution which should perhaps be more widely recognised and acknowledged.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)
I am sure that the House will agree that this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. The Government are grateful to the Opposition for the opportunity which they have given to 1007 put the Advisory Committee's Report in perspective.
The Chairman of the Advisory Committee, Sir Edward Wayne, in his letter to the Home Secretary accompanying the Report, stressed that the Report was neither final nor definitive. Some Press comment has suggested that it would have been better had the Committee refrained from making any report at this stage. I appreciate that that must have been a difficult matter of judgment for the Wootton Sub-Committee.
The Report contains a valuable summary of the somewhat confusing world literature on the subject, but it is notably deficient in reliable evidence about the use of cannabis in the United Kingdom. Paragraph 36 of the Report states that the Sub-Committee was unable to come to any conclusion whether the number of persons who take cannabis in the United Kingdom is nearer to 30,000 or to 300,000, and the gap is a wide one.
Hon. Members have alluded to some inconsistencies in the logic of the Sub-Committee's thinking. No doubt that is why newspaper headlines have been as varied as "Charter for Junkies" and "Reason on Pot". The Report is valuable for raising discussion of this difficult social problem to an altogether different plane from that featured in The Times advertisement of July, 1967, and for showing the great difficulties of this kind of inquiry. There can be no doubt that the Report will, in the words of the Advisory Committee's Chairman:… make a valuable contribution towards a more informed understanding of the problem of cannabis".On that basis, today's debate forms a most timely starting point for further thought and inquiry.
The reasons for drug-taking even among young people are infinite. They range from personal inadequacies, frustrations and setbacks, to the urge to experiment, the allurement of the unknown, the wish to achieve a sharper perception and, ultimately, to classical group attitudes. It is right for us to remind ourselves that drugs can be one of the media employed by one generation to show its dissatisfaction with the standards, the attitudes and the customs of another. To a large extent the misuse of drugs represents yet another issue in the 1008 gap, a credibility gap or a rapport gap, which exists between youth and age. I have touched on matters which may lie beyond the proper scope of the debate, but I believe that they should always serve as a background for our thoughts and decisions.
It is inevitable that the debate has tended to centre around only one of the many recommendations of the Sub-Committee, the most controversial recommendation, turning on the revision of the penalties for the use of cannabis.
Before I deal with various matters that have been referred to in the debate, I have been asked to say on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that when he spoke of methedrine having some to us from Sweden, that was an inadvertent slip of the tongue; he had no intention of saying that, and it is not true. A cult of intravenous amphetamine abuse seems to have developed from the initial attempt to win heroin addicts away from the drug of their choice.
Like everyone else in the House, I have a great admiration for the rhetorical powers of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). As usual, he gave the House a glimpse of his grandeur and evangelical fervour in pleading a case. I wholeheartedly agree with him that it is not for us to try to do the work of the courts, judges and magistrates. It would be a sorry state if we were to seek to set down a rigid tariff of maximum penalties, compartmentalising in great detail various subheadings of what are now regarded as being general headings of crime.
I agree in substance with the hon. Members for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). Normally—indeed, I should think, on any other occasion—I should look upon them as a quartet of reaction, but today I agreed with their fundamental argument that, looking at the Report of the Committee as a whole, there was, from the point of view of public opinion, a very great danger of regarding the Report, perhaps not intentionally, as having the effect of toning down the detrimental and deleterious effects of cannabis.
1009 It is right that young people should seek to experiment; it is right that they should seek a greater perception; but this is not a movement towards a greater and sharper experience of reality. It is a movement in the contrary direction. This is not reality; this is a blurring, a distortion, a blunting of reality.
Under the heading of "Marijuana" the current edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say of cannabis:Marijuana intoxication may be accompanied by such physical and psychic manifestations as thirst, hunger, craving for sweet foods, nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain, drowsiness, irritability, delusions of grandeur or persecution, uncontrollable hilarity, talkativeness, apprehension, mental confusion, prostration, depression, inarticulate speech and delirium.I am sure that some hon. Members would remind us that certain of those conditions are possible in the House of Commons without smoking "pot".
Be that as it may, we should ask ourselves whether that is the licence that we are seeking to confer upon our young people. Is this the privilege that we want to give them? Is this the real patrimony of citizenship to which we feel that they are entitled?
At this point, I want to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr). There are many matters in that speech on which I should like to comment. I shall confine myself to alluding to his argument which sought to show that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that there is a causal connection between the taking of cannabis and ultimate addiction to heroin. I do not know whether he has seen the recent paper published by Professor Paton of Oxford University. It is unfortunate that it came to light only two days before the Sub-Committee concluded its work. In it, Professor Paton tries to look dispassionately at the problem. He looks upon it as a scientist and seeks in the fairest way possible to put it up as a null hypothesis, suggesting that there is no connection. Then he tries to test that null hypothesis by putting up the conditions that would be expected to exist if that were true.
In the first instance, Professor Paton says that one would expect to see persons take to heroin at an earlier age than they Would take to cannabis. The evidence is to the contrary. We know 1010 that young people tend to take cannabis at 16 or 17 and to heroin at 18 or 19, or even a year or two later.
The Professor's second point is that one must then look at the incidence of heroin addicts who have taken cannabis and compare it with the incidence of those who take cannabis in society at large. In society at large it is roughly the proportion of one to 2,000. That is 005 per cent. For those who are heroin addicts and have taken cannabis at an earlier stage, it is between 80 and 100 per cent.
§ Dr. David Kerr
This is not the moment to argue these statistics, but may I put it to my hon. Friend, first, that if I said that there is no connection I did not mean to say it, because there is clearly a case for investigation? That is the point. May I put it to him, second, that on the evidence which he now puts before us I would remain quite unconvinced, because it seems to me that the postulates that he is raising are highly questionable?
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
I accept what my hon. Friend says about his own contentions, but, if I may mention the third test of Professor Paton, it is that one has to trace the graph to find what is the pattern of the incidence of cannabis-taking over the last 18 years and compare it with the incidence of heroin addiction. The two lines are almost exactly parallel.
Professor Paton does not put forward any of those factors as positive arguments, but, in so far as they are arguments in support of the hypothesis that there was no connection, not only do they fail but they go some considerable distance in the other direction. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not dispute that.
There are many matters in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray), but time is pressing, and I will refer only to his comment about the courts. Put at its highest, his argument is that this is an imperfect human system, and the discretion has not been used as it should be. I submit with the greatest force that that is not an argument for abolishing the discretion itself. He said that 17 per cent. of first offenders found to be in possession of cannabis were sent to prison. Without 1011 having examined each of those cases minutely, I do not think it is right and proper to say that such a sentence was wrong in any one of them. It may be that a person is prosecuted for being found in possession of cannabis. He may be a "pusher", but the prosecution will not be able to establish that and will have to charge him with being in possession. It is right that the court should take into account all the circumstances, and the point has been made already by the hon. Member for Ilford, North that these are sentences that have not been appealed against, have stood, and, therefore, can be regarded as having been reasonable ones.
I am sorry that time does not allow me to comment on the matters raised by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I agree with much of his characteristically courageous speech, but the real difference between us is that, whereas he believes that the weight of medical evidence is in favour of his contentions, looking at all the published literature, the resolutions of international bodies and all the evidence. I submit that the weight of evidence is overwhelmingly against the recommendations of the Committee.
My right hon. Friend has made clear the Government's intention to discourage drug taking. That is good public health policy to which, I believe, public opinion fully assents. Our present legislative position is not satisfactory, and we must refashion it soon to meet future developments. The Government are not opposed to changes in penalties for all time, and it may be that that after some general review there will be a case for modifications of one kind or another in new, comprehensive codifying legislation. For the time being, however, we are convinced that it would be as wrong as it would be dangerous to modify the penalties for possession of cannabis in isolation from a comprehensive recasting of the drugs laws. In a situation as confusing as that surrounding the mis-use of drugs, concerning as it does young people in that difficult transitional stage from youth to adulthood, it is the absolute duty of the Government to proceed with circumspection and care, and with the full support of the public, in refashioning the law.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.