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1.17 pm

Mr. Burden: With the leave of the House, I shall make a couple of points.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for participating, especially those who support the Bill. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said that Conservative Front Benchers agree with its purposes, but have reservations about the detail. The detail can be examined; that is the point of considering the Bill in Committee. However, before being debated in Committee, it must be given a Second Reading. Therefore, there is a challenge for Opposition Front Benchers: if they want the issue tackled as they say, the Bill must be given a Second Reading so they are obliged to vote for that.

Other Opposition Members have more principled opposition, and I understand their view. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said that

2 Feb 2001 : Column 620

people who felt that they had been sufficiently exploited should be able to seek civil redress. I do not know his definition of being sufficiently exploited, but £25, £30 or £40 is a lot of money for people on fixed or low incomes, and those who have been stung look to us to help them. We have a choice about whether to do so or not. By voting for Second Reading, we would begin to help them and I invite all hon. Members to join me in the Aye Lobby.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 34, Noes 0.

Division No. 101
[1.17 pm


Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Austin, John
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Burden, Richard
Butler, Mrs Christine
Chidgey, David
Clwyd, Ann
Cooper, Yvette
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Dismore, Andrew
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Dowd, Jim
Flynn, Paul
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harris, Dr Evan
Howells, Dr Kim
Jamieson, David
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Mallaber, Judy
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Tyler, Paul

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Andrew Miller and
Angela Smith.


Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. David Maclean.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

2 Feb 2001 : Column 620

2 Feb 2001 : Column 621

Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.28 pm

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill allows the production, supply, possession and use of cannabis resin for medicinal purposes. I feel almost apologetic that I am introducing a genuine Back-Bench Bill during the meagre time given to Back-Bench Bills, which successive Governments have treated as their own domain for some years.

The reason for introducing the Bill is that, in 1999, two men were jailed in separate courts in Wales for using cannabis for medicinal purposes. Their motive was not questioned, but that was the law. In 1999, in a similar case, a jury came back to the judge and asked for discretion. The jury said that it did not want to convict a wheelchair-bound, seriously ill man. The judge said:

In that case, the jury did not do its historical job of reflecting the common sense of the British people, but convicted.

In the long time since that conviction, no other jury has convicted in a similar prosecution, including one in which a man was accused of supplying cannabis to a co-operative of 40 people. Technically, he had broken the law. The jury, however, acted like most people with common sense would do by refusing to convict him. He was carried from the court on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. The current law on cannabis is an ass.

The Bill in its precise terms has the support of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, the Police Foundation--which conducted a study on the matter--a great majority of doctors, the Townswomen's Guild and 105 hon. Members. It also reflects the precise recommendations made in various reports to allow cannabis in its natural state to be prescribed by a limited number of doctors in an unlicensed form to named patients, just as heroin and cocaine are legally prescribed now.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the House was told that the Outworking Bill had the support of 105 hon. Members because they had signed an early-day motion, but that only 34 hon. Members bothered to turn up to support it today? Does he expect that the 105 hon. Members who signed his early-day motion will attend today to support his Bill? What support does he think he has?

Mr. Flynn: I am aware of the realities of the House and the effects of the legislative assassins who infest this place on Friday mornings. Bearing in mind the true situation, I did not put pressure on those hon. Members to attend today. However, I assure the House that they are enthusiastically committed to the Bill.

Mr. Forth: The support is zero.

Mr. Flynn: It is not. Let us take some time to investigate the issue and explore the support.

2 Feb 2001 : Column 622

There may be a quibble about using an unlicensed medicine, but I hope that the Minister will not raise that issue. If she does, I would remind her that 25 per cent. of medicines currently being prescribed to children in hospitals are unlicensed. I am proposing a return to the entirely sensible arrangement that existed before 1973. We are asking for the re-legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

After publication of the Lords Select Committee report, the Government acted uniquely by rejecting my private Member's Bill within nanoseconds of its introduction. I have promoted essentially the same Bill in three Parliaments. In each debate, however, after leaving the Dispatch Box, Ministers left a lingering scent of hypocrisy, callousness, indifference and political cowardice. I hope that the Government's response today will not be the same. I urge the Minister to throw away her prepared brief, to act as the sympathetic, intelligent human being that she is and to give us a very different response.

Why is the legislation necessary? What is the problem? Cannabis is the most ancient medicine in the world. We shall probably be told that it has to be trialled. Cannabis trials, however, have been conducted for 5,000 years by billions of people on every continent. It is the world's most ancient medicine. It was used to treat eye problems by those who built the pyramids, and Queen Victoria used it to treat menstrual cramps. Indeed, many people have used it in the past century. I commend to hon. Members "The Emperors of Dreams", which is an excellent book on drug use in the past century.

A century ago, most of the drugs that are illegal now were being used--indeed, they were the only drugs that worked. The current Government will say that they are sympathetic to my proposals, but insist that they must have trials and a pharmaceutically acceptable form of cannabis.

In 1894, a similar argument was used about opium, which was widely used. It was decided that what was needed was a refined form of opium; not the raw, natural opium, but something from a laboratory. Chemists produced a refined form that could be packaged and put in a little pill. They wondered how they could market it so that opium would lose its bad reputation. It was used by low-life types; by immigrants, would you believe. They decided to market this wonderfully pure form of drug as the medicine for heroes. In order to associate it with heroes, they came up with a word that is very much like "heroism" in German and English; heroin. We have seen the results of that.

Speaking as a chemist, I believe that going down the course chosen by the Government will produce a monster. I urge people to allow the use of natural cannabis because of the long centuries in which it has been trialled. If there were major problems or serious side-effects, these would have occurred during that period and would have been well known to us, as has been the case with all natural drugs that are used. Nothing has appeared in that time.

The drug is less toxic than aspirin and has never knowingly killed anyone. Large numbers of people are killed by, for example, anti-inflammatory drugs, which kill 3,000 people a year; by Paracetamol, which kills 600 a year; and by anti-depressants, which kill nearly 600

2 Feb 2001 : Column 623

a year. All those are approved by the Government because they come in neat, white packages and have the blessing of the chemical industry.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to a layman. Would it be fair to describe cannabis as an organic product, like those we are urged to buy in supermarkets?

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