HL Deb 10 July 2002 vol 637 cc714-27

4.42 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement in responding to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs. In doing so, I wish to make it clear that I will publish a substantial update of the 1998 drugs strategy this autumn.

"On 23rd October, in my evidence to the Select Committee, I laid out a number of key themes which are reflected in the Committee's report. I am grateful for the excellent work which the Chairman and Members of the Committee have done and to all those who have assisted both the Committee and myself, including my drugs unit. I also thank the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the many agencies and authoritative bodies who have contributed.

"I cannot imagine that there is a Member of this House who does not wish to ensure that those we represent are free from the misery that is caused by drug abuse. Class A drugs are the scourge of our time and are potential killers. Over the past 30 years the huge increase in the use of drugs, particularly hard drugs, has caused untold damage to the health, life chances and wellbeing of individuals. This has undermined family life, fuelled criminality and damaged communities. The estimated social and economic costs of drug misuse are well in excess of £10 billion a year. Around three quarters of crack and heroin users claim to be committing crime to feed their habit.

"I am grateful for the considerable progress made by my predecessors. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for Health for the announcement we are able to make today of an additional investment, which will total £183 million over the next three years, for treatment services and harm minimisation. The numbers entering treatment have increased by an average of 8 per cent each year since 1998. In 2000, seizures worth £780 million were made. Last year, 3.4 tonnes of heroin and 10.9 tonnes of cocaine were seized, exceeding targets.

"Today, I wish to inform the House of the overall direction of the review of the drugs strategy and the Committee's report. There will be an increased focus on class A drugs. The message is clear. Drugs are dangerous. We will educate, persuade, and, where necessary, direct young people away from their use. We will not legalise or decriminalise any drug, nor do we envisage a time when this would be appropriate.

"As recommended by the Committee, there will be a better focus on those whose drug addiction causes the most harm to themselves and to society; those described as problematic drug users. In the past two years, we have established the National Treatment Agency and invested more than half a billion pounds. We have begun to fill the gaps in services for crack addicts. We will continue the rapid expansion of referral for treatment of offenders.

"We accept that expansion in managed prescribing for the most appropriate cases of heroin addiction will be necessary; the right treatment for the right patient. But more than treatment is required. Aftercare and rehabilitation must become part of the package of care for those leaving treatment, or from prison. Harm minimisation will be given greater priority. But in the form in which the term is normally used, we are not persuaded that shooting galleries would, at this moment, be helpful.

"We will use the powers in the Proceeds of Crime Bill to confiscate the assets of those whose lifestyle depends on the misery of others and target the regional or 'middle' drug markets. We will clamp down on the dealers who prey on the young. We will increase the sentences for trafficking and dealing in class B and C drugs to 14 years. This will avoid mixed messages to those dealing in more than one drug, and will establish a lead in European-wide discussions. But we do not agree that it is necessary to introduce a supply for gain offence.

"We will support parents and families to help them cope with the effects of addiction. In line with the Committee's recommendation, we will ensure that carers and families are involved in the development of services. We will launch an education campaign targeted at young people with the message that all drugs are harmful and class A drugs are killers. We are not persuaded that ecstasy should be downgraded; it can kill. However, the message to young people and families must be open, honest and believable. That is why I asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the classification of cannabis.

"They have recommended that the current classification is disproportionate in relation to harmfulness and the nature of other con trolled drugs. They were clear, and so am I, that cannabis is a potentially harmful drug and should remain illegal. However, it is not comparable with crack, heroin, or ecstasy. They were clear that greater differentiation between drugs which kill and drugs that cause harm would be both scientifically justified and educationally sensible.

"I have considered this advice along with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. I have taken account of the Metropolitan Police experiment in Lambeth, which has seen a 10 per cent increase in the arrest of class A drug dealers. The Metropolitan Police will today announce that the pilot will be adjusted and will be applicable across London in the months ahead. I can tell the House that I will seek to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug by July of next year.

"Let me be clear: cannabis possession remains a criminal offence. I am determined that the police are able to control the streets and uphold order. They will be able to arrest for possession where public order is threatened or where children are at risk. The Association of Chief Police Officers will shortly issue national guidance to ensure that in the vast majority of cases officers will confiscate the drug and issue a warning. Police time saved will be refocused on class A drug dealing.

"Where communities are strong, drugs do not take hold. Drug-related crime and disorder devastate communities. That is why last year we launched the communities against drugs fund to provide £220 million over three years to enable communities to become part of the solution. It is the vulnerable who succumb to drugs. Statutory and voluntary agencies, families and communities all have a role to play in protecting them.

"Through education, harm minimisation, treatment and tough action against dealers and traffickers, we have a winning strategy. It will require positive commitment, rather than grandstanding. Last October, I called for a mature and intelligent debate. I hope that this is what we can continue to have. I hope that, in moving this Statement today, we continue that sensible approach to a difficult and sensitive issue. I commend the Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.49 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. His closing words are absolutely right; it is very much a sensitive issue. However, the House will recognise that it is indeed an extraordinary Statement made on an extraordinary day.

There are two coherent strategies on cannabis. The Government, in the Statement today, choose not to adopt either of them. I recognise that a serious argument can be made for complete legalisation of cannabis with sale being taken out of the hands of the drug dealers and the substance being treated like tobacco or alcohol, licensed and taxed. It is not an argument to which I subscribe. The alternative policy which we prefer can be constructed—as it is in Sweden—to make serious efforts to lead young people away from cannabis use. The Government have not adopted either of those courses. In fact, they are giving control over cannabis to the drug dealers, but with the police turning away.

This is not just the day on which the Home Secretary made a Statement about a muddled and dangerous policy; today is also the day when the Government's chief adviser on drugs, Mr Keith Hellawell, resigned in protest at that muddled and dangerous policy. He told the "Today" programme that, this is causing a great deal of problems on the streets. It's causing a great deal of problems for parents who just don't know where they are". Commenting later on the Home Secretary's Brixton experiment, Mr Hellawell said that it had become "open season" for those peddling drugs.

I invite the Minister to explain whether the Government intend that the police should arrest people who are openly selling cannabis—as they are on the streets of Brixton today—or whether they are asking the police to look away. I remind the Minister what local people think of the experiment in Brixton. The Reverend Chris Andre-Watson, youth group leader at Brixton Baptist Church, said on 5th July this year, This area has become saturated with cannabis and we even have drug dealing going on outside playgrounds. Young people feel that cannabis has been legalised". Why are the Government introducing a system whereby they say, "We shall not prosecute you if you possess a small amount of cannabis. We are happy to let you go on buying this from your criminal drug dealer, but we will perhaps try to get hold of you and prosecute you if you try to buy harder drugs or if that same criminal who is supplying you with the cannabis tries to sell you harder drugs. What you have to do is say no to them. We shall not try to stop you if you say yes in the first instance to cannabis but we shall stop you if you say yes to the harder drugs". That is not a clear choice for people to make. The Government are making a mockery of the "Just Say No" campaign. What are people to say no to these days?

Will the Minister explain how it can be right to tell one set of people that it is all right to smoke cannabis but to tell another set of people that they may be put in prison for 14 years if they sell it? Will the Minister explain how, with a policy that consists of deeply confusing mixed messages, he can expect to reduce drug dependency and criminality in this country?

The Statement says that the police, will be able to arrest for possession where public order is threatened or where children are at risk". But how will the police determine the threshold for public order incidents before they decide to take action? Is that a strict legal reference to Section 4 or Section 5 public order offences and, if so, will the higher level of 4 or the lower level of 5 apply? Or do the Government intend the police to take action when other crime such as theft or burglary occurs at the same time? I am confused—as much of the Statement is confused—about when the police will have to take action. The Government say that the police will take action where children are at risk. Do they mean when children are at risk on the streets or in schools or at home? Where will the police be directed to arrest people on those occasions?

I am afraid that just saying in the Statement that the Government's message is clear does not make it so. It is hopelessly muddled. The saddest thing about the policy is that it owes its origins not to the advice of the Government's chief adviser on drugs, nor to a well considered examination of the results of the Brixton experiment, and certainly not to the views of the people whose children's lives are being destroyed by drugs, but to a political stratagem.

The Government adopted this policy because they believed that they could wrongfoot all their opponents, perhaps buying off the libertarians with increased liberalisation and buying off the anti-drugs lobby with a show of toughness. But, as the Government's own adviser said today: There is just a sort of repackaging, a respinning of the issue to appear as if something has been done". The Government's clever stratagem has disintegrated in the past 24 hours and has presented the Government with a massive liability. Far more importantly, it will present many of our most vulnerable communities with the prospect of social disaster.

But it is still not too late. It is not too late for the Government to think again before this disastrous Order in Council is implemented. In the interests of the Government and in the interests of the young people of the whole of our country they should do so.

4.56 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. We look forward to the publication of the update of the 1998 drugs strategy.

First, I express my concern about the inconsistencies in the Government's approach to the drugs policy and about the way in which the police seem to be implementing it. We do not have to go too far back to the time when Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary rejected some of the key recommendations of the report of the Police Foundation. In fact, the appointment of the drugs czar at that time gave a pointer of the Government's intention to be tough instead of liberalising some aspects of their drugs policy. The certain demise of this high level appointment is a clear indication of the change at the heart of the Government in handling this subject. However, there is the question of the confusion of the public with regard to the different messages that seem to be filtering through from the Government.

We agree that drugs policy is an important, difficult and sensitive issue. Does the Minister therefore accept that this makes it all the more important that the Government have talks with opposition parties to seek maximum political agreement before the national drugs strategy is updated in the autumn? Does he accept that despite some progress and successes, drugs policies and the present law are still failing badly? The real signs of success are reduced numbers of drug users, drug addicts and drug-related deaths.

Does the Minister agree that dealing with users and addicts should be seen principally as a health issue whereas tackling the dealers and traffickers should be seen principally as a crime issue? Is not that distinction important? If treatment services are to be significantly increased, which we certainly welcome, what then is the Minister's alternative to so-called shooting galleries for moving heroin addicts out of the clutch of criminals and into the hands of health professionals?

Although prison will be entirely appropriate for dealers and traffickers, does the Minister accept that crirninalisation and imprisonment are an inadequate response to the addiction of the addict while at the same time adding thousands more people to our already overcrowded gaols? The Minister mentioned an additional investment that will total £183 million over the next three years. It would he helpful to know precisely what is included within that figure.

On classification, what is the new logic for having different harm categories for amphetamines and cannabis, for example, if the maximum punishment for dealing in them will in future be the same? On cannabis, where the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls among many others shares the view that the present law has fallen into disrepute, we welcome the changed status of cannabis to a class C drug and the announcement that there will in future be a common police response across London to cannabis possession. However, it should not apply simply to London but should be a national policy.

Does the Home Secretary not see the horrible danger of muddled messages if it becomes national policy that cannabis use will not normally be arrestable unless the police consider it a public order matter, that the police will not be expected to look for people using cannabis but that the police will be expected to confiscate it if people use it?

If the Government agree with us that the main focus of the criminal justice and education systems should he to prevent young people being caught up in much more dangerous drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, is not the only logical, clear and consistent message that cannabis for personal use will never be the subject of criminal proceedings anywhere in the country but that dealing for profit in cannabis, as is the case with other drugs, will always be subject to prosecution by the law?

5 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, "Don't make any change" and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in effect said, "Legalise the possession of cannabis".

We take a middle and sensible course. Our strategy, as set out clearly in the Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place, is to focus on class A drugs; it is not to legalise cannabis. It remains unlawful and a crime to possess it. However, as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Select Committee advised us, one's policy on drugs must be coherent and credible. They advised us that the distinctions that need to be drawn between different sorts of drugs must be more credible. That is why those two bodies recommended that we reduce cannabis from class B to class C. That advice has been taken by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It involves not legalising cannabis but having a coherent and credible policy that people will understand. I believe that they will understand it very clearly indeed.

As for the increase in penalties for dealing in cannabis, again, people will not have any difficulty understanding the distinction between, on the one hand, possession and, on the other hand, clamping down hard on dealing in illegal drugs such as cannabis. There is no question of a mixed message; the position is perfectly clear. We have dealt with the matter with a degree of clarity that matches people's experience.

The noble Baroness asked whether the effect of the approach involved saying that it was okay to smoke cannabis. No, it does not say that. It says that it remains a criminal offence, albeit class C rather than class B.

Will there be arrest for simple possession? The answer is that there will not be arrest for simple possession but that there will be arrest in aggravated circumstances, such as those involving public order or where there is a risk to children. That is in accordance with the advice given by ACPO. On the circumstances in which there is a risk to public order, I do not believe that ACPO will have any difficulty giving appropriate guidance to its members. Police officers regularly make such judgments on the streets. We have complete confidence that they will be able to continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, focused on the need to reduce the numbers of drug users, of drug dealers and of people who continue to take drugs having started to do so. We thoroughly agree. That should be the aim of our drugs policy. He said that possession—I believe that he was referring to all drugs—should be regarded as a health issue whereas dealing and trafficking should be regarded as a criminal issue. There is a role in respect of both approaches.

The noble Lord indicated that when people go to prison, they frequently do not get sufficient treatment for their drugs problems. I agree. There has to be a real focus on providing help to people in prison who have drug problems.

The noble Lord asked: what is the Government's response to shooting galleries and are we in favour of some kind of authorised shooting gallery? Our position, which is set out more fully in the response to the Select Committee's report, can be summarised by saying that we support the provision of safe, medically supervised areas with clean needles for the administration of heroin prescribed as part of a comprehensive package of measures for treating heroin addicts, but not for those who have not been prescribed heroin. I hope that that answers the question.

I said in answer to the noble Baroness that we do not believe that our messages are mixed; they are quite straightforward. They seek to deal with the issue that many people face on the streets; those people need a coherent and clear response.

I turn to what the people of Lambeth thought of the experiment. The noble Baroness will know that the Police Foundation, in alliance with MORI, conducted a poll of Lambeth residents towards the end of last year. It showed that 83 per cent of residents supported the Lambeth cannabis scheme, although for 40 per cent of the total that was conditional on the police spending more time reducing serious crime. It also showed that 74 per cent believe that the scheme would result in police time being redeployed into tackling serious crime, that 64 per cent agreed that the scheme would improve community relations and that 71 per cent saw the scheme as a better way of dealing with young people who use cannabis. I wonder whether the noble Baroness has a better angle on what the people of Lambeth think.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Statement on cannabis is totally illogical and leads to the worst of all possible worlds? He said, on the one hand, that it is the Government's intention to declassify cannabis as a class C drug. I do not believe that that is right, but that is not the point. The fact is that that is bound to be taken by people as a clear message from the Government that there is really nothing wrong with taking cannabis. The Statement is bound to be looked on as encouraging experimentation and use of the drug among young people.

To attempt at the same time to increase the penalties on dealers is utterly illogical. Where is the supply, which the Statement will encourage, met other than through dealers? As my noble friend Lady Anelay said, are not the Government really throwing the control of drugs and of young people into the hands on those very dealers? Does the noble and learned Lord really believe that those dealers, who will be encouraged to sell cannabis as a result of the declassification to class C, will be satisfied with going no further than that? Or does he accept that the chances are that they will encourage those who are going to them for class C drugs to advance to harder drugs—class A drugs—to the greater profitability of the dealers and the greater devastation of society, as the noble and learned Lord said?

I beg the noble and learned Lord to think again about how to deal with the situation. One cannot make Statements that appear to encourage the use and possession of cannabis and which imply that cannabis in small amounts is no concern without taking some view of the supply. If one goes down that road, surely it would be better to go the whole way, to decriminalise and to have open supply rather than to leave the situation as it currently is; that is, making cannabis a class C dangerous drug with supply only through the dealers.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that there is an illogicality between reclassifying—he referred to declassifying—cannabis as class C rather than class B, on the one hand, and, on the other, increasing the maximum penalty for trafficking in class C drugs. The answer to his suggestion is that there is no illogicality there. The basis for reclassification—all the advice—is that one needs to make distinctions between the top of the tree (heroin, crack and cocaine), which involves class A drugs, and class C drugs such as steroids, pain-killers that are not authorised and cannabis. They are all illegal but the distinctions between the three classes should be accurate, understood and coherent to people. That is a clear reason for the reclassification.

Equally, there is nothing illogical or inconsistent between that and saying, "We take an extremely serious view of people dealing and trafficking in drugs". We believe that the right course is to increase the penalties for that in relation to classes B and C. That is what we have done. There is no illogicality.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement. I find it clear in its commitment to tackling real problems. As chair of the National Treatment Agency, I shall focus mainly on treatment issues. The treatment agency was set up last year to monitor and improve the provision of treatment and to oversee the core treatment budget. Extra funding for treatment will be welcomed by all those who are active in the field.

As the Minister said, drug misuse affects the health of individuals, the health of families and the health of communities. It also has an impact on crime. But there are many challenges and I believe that those are addressed in the Statement. The challenges involve ensuring that integrated care facilities exist for individuals; that is, care services which stretch from referral right through to assessment and aftercare for all people—prisoners, men, women, young people and black minority ethnic groups, all of whom have very different needs.

I also welcome the emphasis on educating young people to become more aware of the dangers of all drugs and the emphasis on tackling dealers and traffickers. The inter-departmental approach to drugs from the Home Secretary and the Health Secretary is encouraging. It is also encouraging that the Association of Chief Police Officers has placed an emphasis on treatment rather than on punishment as a solution to the problem of drugs.

How does the Minister envisage that the joint action between departments on tackling drugs will work in practice? I should also like an update on the alcohol strategy and the drug target document.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's question. It is very important to emphasise and re-emphasise that the drugs strategy to which my right honourable friend's Statement refers is about focusing, in criminal terms in particular, on class A drugs. It is about bearing down on drug traffickers and drug dealers. But it is also about treatment and rehabilitation, and, most importantly, it is about joining up between departments. Therefore, it is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, simply a criminal, health or education issue; it is a combination of all those.

The strategy will be delivered on the basis of close liaison between all the relevant departments, reinforced from time to time by a ministerial group with representatives from all the departments.

On targets, the Statement makes it clear that we shall publish a detailed update of the drugs strategy in October this year. I shall restrict my answers at present to the drugs strategy and not deal with the alcohol strategy.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, if I heard aright, I believe that there was one reference in the Statement to cannabis being potentially harmful. Is it not the case that cannabis can do appalling harm? Is there not now abundant evidence that it can, for example, precipitate schizophrenia? Do the Government accept the great body of evidence which indicates that cannabis is an extremely dangerous substance and that it can cause schizophrenia?

If the Government accept that body of evidence—I cannot for the life of me see how they can ignore it—how on earth can they go forward with a misguided policy that is bound to convey to young people that they can smoke cannabis with no risk at all? How can they simultaneously tell people, "For goodness sake, don't take cannabis or you risk ruining your lives"?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, my right honourable friend's Statement makes it clear that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs took the view that cannabis is a potentially harmful drug. My right honourable friend in another place made it clear that he, too, considered it to be a harmful drug. There is no question of there being any other view than that.

However, the central point is that, while cannabis should remain illegal, it is not comparable with, say, crack, heroin or ecstasy. It is placed in a different category from those drugs. Again, I make it absolutely clear that the advisory council and my right honourable friend in another place considered it to be a potentially harmful drug and that it should remain illegal.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the noble arid learned Lord did not answer my question. Do the Government accept that the use of cannabis can precipitate schizophrenia?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not want to duck the issue, but I feel slightly reluctant to answer a specific question such as that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord about that.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Minister kindly ensure that the House will be told if any guidance is to be given about the exact effects of cannabis? If noble Lords have listened to teenagers over the past 20 years, they will be aware of the great myth that cannabis does no harm at all. There are other stories which say that it will kill you after taking your first puff. There is a huge amount of disinformation about the substance. As everyone knows, such information is widespread. Will the noble and learned Lord undertake to ensure that the young are made aware of the exact chemical effects of the substance? An important point about the cannabis culture is that it has great layers of rubbish floating around in it concerning what happens when it is taken.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that is an important point. It is extremely important that there should be an education campaign setting out the harmful effects of all the relevant drugs—classes A, B and C—in order to get rid of myths and to inform people of the dangers Of taking all drugs, including class C drugs. We hope shortly to begin an education campaign in which the precise information to which the noble Lord refers will be made as public as possible and will be directed in particular towards those in schools.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, is the Minister aware that government departments have run an education campaign about all drugs, including cannabis, for more than 10 years? I believe that we have just discovered why such education campaigns are not very successful.

I declare an interest. I have been involved in providing day care treatment for drug addicts in London for many years. I also now chair the Mentor Foundation, which is the leading drug prevention organisation in Britain. Therefore, over the past 15 years I have listened to a lot of Statements about drugs in your Lordships' House. I wonder whether the Minister is aware that, apart from a few details, that Statement could have been made at any time over the past 15 years.

The noble and learned Lord told your Lordships that the policy focuses on class A drugs. Does he believe that we have not been focusing on class A drugs for the past 25 years? We have. He talked about extending treatment services. I welcome that and, of course, I welcome the new money. We welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and her National Treatment Agency. That is a good step forward. But there is a very simple answer to why those treatment services do not work. There are not enough of them; they are colossally under-funded; there are not enough places; and the standards are too low. It is fairly simple.

The noble and learned Lord said that education is very important. It is, but have we not just heard an example of how difficult it is to educate people about drugs? The noble and learned Lord talked about departmental co-ordination. Of course, he is right. I cannot remember—perhaps the noble and learned Lord can help me—how many Ministers from that Front Bench have stood at the Dispatch Box and talked about co-ordination.

Is the noble and learned Lord aware—probably he is not—of how excited the drugs world was when, in 1997, the Prime Minister made it clear that his Government would focus on drugs? He appointed a co-ordinator, who resigned today. Then responsibility was moved and the Secretary of State took charge. Now the issue is back where it was in 1996—with a junior Minister at his department.

The noble and learned Lord talked about prevention. That is very important. I spent two long, frustrating meetings in the noble and learned Lord's department. Is he aware that the prevention strategy that was written up so carefully in 1997 simply does not exist?

I could not—nor would I wish to—address every point in this complex Statement. Some of it is very good and some of it is very sensible. But is the noble and learned Lord aware that, when he tells the House that this is a winning strategy, no one believes him? No one who works in the field considers it to be a winning strategy. He also said that he would like to have a mature and intelligent debate. My last question is whether the House can have a mature, intelligent debate. We have not been able to debate a drugs policy in your Lordships' House since before 1997. Does the noble and learned Lord believe that it would be a good thing if we were able to do so?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the last issue is a matter for the Business managers and I would not dream of trespassing into that dangerous territory. The experience of the noble Lord in dealing with drug addicts and people suffering from the effects of drugs is well known in this House. We all respect the work he has done. No one ever suggested that a drugs strategy would be easy to deliver.

I detected in the noble Lord's response that he does not dispute the fact that the things said in the Statement are good things; the question is whether enough is being done. I shall make two points. First, this issue is treated as an extremely high priority. It is at the forefront of the priorities of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and has been since he became Home Secretary. Secondly, as I indicated in the Statement, we have put significant additional amounts of money into fighting drugs. There will never be enough, but the problem has a high priority and we are doing our level best to deal with it.

Lord Prior

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord defended himself on the grounds that the MORI poll carried out at the end of last year gave him evidence to support his case. Is that the latest information he has? Is there not further evidence to suggest that that information is miles out of date?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, there has been much reporting and anecdotal evidence in relation to what is happening in Lambeth. The poll to which I referred is the most recent polling evidence with which I have been provided. If there is a later poll, I should be interested to hear about it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware—I am sure he is not—that a friend of mine telephoned me the other day because, on visiting a friend, he walked through Brixton and was stopped on many occasions and offered drugs. He was simply horrified. He is a strong young man of six foot two inches, in his early thirties, and he felt vulnerable and concerned.

Does the noble and learned Lord think that Brixton is out of control as regards drugs and drug pushing? If so, many people will shy away from Brixton and it will become a no-go area. If that is the result of the experiment, it is not very good.

Following the point raised by the noble Lord. Lord Waddington, can the Minister tell the House about the effect of cannabis on mentally ill people who take legal drugs? What happens when the two are mixed? Can he also comment on terminally ill people who have campaigned for years to use cannabis legally as part of their treatment? They say that cannabis helps them. Why not include them in an experiment? They are willing people, who say that cannabis helps them. As they are terminally ill, perhaps the damaging effects of the drug are not so important. They want to use it, and we should do all we can to help people in their last stages of life.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, obviously I was not aware of the conversation referred to by the noble Baroness. However, the point being made is whether drug dealing is increasing dramatically in Lambeth or Brixton. That is the essence of the first part of the question. There is no statistical evidence that there have been more dealers in Lambeth since the cannabis scheme started in July 2001. However, as I said, there has been anecdotal evidence. The evidence given by the noble Baroness is obviously anecdotal to that extent.

Dealer arrest figures, which have just been provided by the Metropolitan Police, show that there have been 224 arrests for supplying class A drugs from July 2001 to May 2002 compared with 204 arrests between July 2000 and June 2001. That is an increase of 10 per cent in 11 months, not 12 months. The Metropolitan Police acknowledge that certain areas have been a centre for crack supply for some years. The policing of crack and heroin has not been relaxed in any way as a result of the cannabis scheme. The police are taking tough action against dealers. As can be seen from the figures I have given, they have had some success. Obviously, one does not know the precise nature of the drugs offered to the friend of the noble Baroness. However, that is the view of the Metropolitan Police about what is happening in Lambeth. That should be set against all the other available evidence.

I turn to the effect of cannabis on the mental health of people taking legal drugs. It would be unwise to try to answer that question from the Dispatch Box. However, perhaps I may deal with that point when I write to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. We have indicated that we should welcome further tests to discover the effect of cannabis as a palliative. That is not in relation to the terminally ill. However, in order to give the correct answer, I would need notice of the question. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness.