HC Deb 21 April 1994 vol 241 cc1027-9
7. Mr. Deva

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to increase the maximum penalty for possession of cannabis.

Mr. Maclean

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, contains provisions that increase the maximum fine available on summary conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for possession of all class B drugs, including cannabis, from £500 to £2,500.

Mr. Deva

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government had decided not to increase the maximum penalty for the possession of cannabis, it would have sent the worst possible signal to our young people?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right. Those penalties, which have not been increased since 1977, affect not only cannabis but all class B drugs. What signal would we be sending if the Government failed to uprate the penalties for drugs of that nature, which in most cases lead people to take harder drugs?

Mr. Mudie

The Minister will be aware that, as a result of drugs, addiction, increasing crime, violence and even deaths are regular features of inner-city life. Will he therefore reconsider the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) for a Bill outlining a comprehensive strategy for drug-related crimes, backed up with the resources for the police to deal with the matter?

Mr. Maclean

If the hon. Gentleman would care to consult Hansard of last week and read the long and detailed answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), he would see the comprehensive strategy laid out. I shall briefly summarise that answer, which contained information about the Home Office drugs prevention initiative, which is providing schemes in 20 areas, and the safer cities programme, which has supported more than 3,500 crime prevention schemes. We have the toughest rules in Europe against those people who deal in drugs. We have effective police and customs action. Part of the national curriculum deals with the subject. Taking all those aspects into account, we are spending £500 million on drug prevention initiatives. We have put our money where the Opposition's mouth is.

Mr. James Hill

My hon. Friend will realise that all of us back his Department in wanting the severest penalties not only for cannabis but for all other drugs. I remind him that we passed through both Houses of Parliament an Act that would confiscate the proceeds of those crimes. I have heard little or nothing about that. Will he inquire into that and ensure that the courts are confiscating properties, cars and anything else that have been acquired as a result of that evil trade?

Mr. Maclean

I can assure my hon. Friend that the measures did pass through the House. They are being used, effectively, by the enforcement authorities—by police and customs. I will happily write to my hon. Friend, giving him details of the latest catches and of how much we have confiscated in the past few years.

Mr. Flynn

Has the Minister noticed that the policy that the Government are following now has been followed in the United States? The Americans have spent $8 billion on their anti-drugs policy. During the period in which they did so, the percentage of their young people using cannabis, increased from 5 per cent. in 1964 to 70 per cent. now. Will he tell us now the number of people who supported the Government's proposal to increase fines? Did not the police, the magistrates and those who work in drug rehabilitation all condemn it, because they said that it would increase drug abuse and drug-related crime as cannabis users would steal more money or goods to pay the greater fines?

Mr. Maclean

First, the hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed with cannabis, whereas the proposals include all class B drugs, so the penalties not only for cannabis but for all class B drugs have been uprated. The hon. Gentleman must consider what the alternative would be. If we did not increase the penalties for certain drugs since 1977, two messages would go out from the House—first that there are now certain types of drugs that it is okay to take and secondly that no one cares about uprating the penalty. It was essential that the penalties were uprated.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does not my hon. Friend find it alarming that the British socialists in the European Parliament have just voted for the Herman report?

Mr. Michael


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Oh yes they did. I have the voting record here. That report is highly federalist and would remove our right to veto changes in immigration and frontier policies, thus preventing us from keeping out drug traffickers. Is my hon. Friend further aware that 27 Conservatives voted against it and none for it?

Mr. Maclean

The Herman report, if implemented, could have the most serious consequences for drug control in Europe. That is why I am appalled at the thought that 22 Labour Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of that report, although 27 Conservative Members of the European Parliament voted against. The Opposition should explain that to the country in the next few months.