HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc7-8
4. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What new proposals he has to reduce the use of illegal drugs. [134161]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government's updated drug strategy was launched in December 2002. Recent achievements in reducing drug use and supporting communities include the introduction of the young people's substance misuse plan in April 2003. Since then, we have launched the Frank anti-drugs awareness campaign, and have announced funding for a two-year anti-stigma campaign for relatives of drug misusers. On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced a pilot arrest referral scheme for young people in 10 sites across the UK.

In addition, the criminal justice interventions programme is now fully operational in 30 basic command units. The Home Secretary is due to announce further expansion of the programme in early November. We have also achieved a reduction in waiting times and an 8 per cent. increase in numbers accessing treatment.

Paul Flynn

Does my hon. Friend agree that the harshest prohibitionist policies against drugs in Europe for 30 years have, perversely, led to our having the worst drug problems in the entire continent—less than 1,000 drug addicts in the UK in 1970 and more than 250,000 now, and no recreational use of cannabis in this country until after it was prohibited? Is not the Government's stand on the reclassification of cannabis a courageous, practical and intelligent one? Although it is a first baby step, is it not likely to lead to a new direction of policy that will reduce all drug harm?

Caroline Flint

The overall aim of our drug strategy is to reduce the harm caused by drugs and, importantly, to reduce the crime caused by those who have drug problems. We do not believe that legalisation is the right step forward. I reaffirm to the House that the reclassification of cannabis in no way legalises cannabis. We are trying to have a mature debate about a highly complex issue. One of the reasons that drugs strategies have failed in the past is that there have been too many gaps through which the people who suffer from addiction fall. Through the criminal justice system and drug action teams, and by working with schools and others, we are trying to make sure that we get the best output from the money that we put in, and above all that we reduce the harm to individuals, their families and the wider community.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

If the Government win the vote on Wednesday, will cannabis be an illegal drug?

Caroline Flint


John Mann (Bassetlaw)

Sweden does it, Australia does it, and now, after years of prevaricating, Bassetlaw is doing it, with GPs taking the lead in treating drug addicts effectively. Would my hon. Friend prefer to wait the two or three years it will take to train more specialist GPs before copying our success, or would she rather give us more money now to evaluate the success and fast-track effective treatment?

Caroline Flint

We are keen to see best practice across the country. As Bassetlaw is a near neighbour of mine, I shall study closely what happens there. One thing is sure: we need to look at a range of people working in the field, from the clinical specialists to others who can make sure that we support people as a way of getting them off drugs and out of drugs. I always have an open ear to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Does the Minister accept that by reclassifying cannabis on Wednesday, the Government will not be doing what the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) would like—fracturing the relationship between hard and soft drug dealing—nor will they be taking the kind of tough measures against all drugs, which the Opposition argue for? Is this not one more example of the fact that the third way is no way at all? Instead of sending out mixed and confusing messages on Wednesday, why does the hon. Lady not provide more drug rehabilitation places?

Caroline Flint

I do not accept that. We are providing more places for various forms of treatment. It is not just a matter of residential treatment; it is a matter of what happens to people when they come out of that treatment and how we sustain treatment in the community. That includes dealing with issues such as employment, housing and education. We are not seeking to legalise cannabis by reclassifying it; we are trying to have an important debate based on scientific evidence that looks at the relative harm caused by different types of controlled drugs. The hon. Gentleman and others are guilty of sending out mixed messages, which do not help children, young people and others who expect an honest, frank and realistic attitude to such an important issue.