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Mr. Clarke: Indeed, my hon. Friend features on the Division list, having voted as he did. Strangely, the nine Members became eight at that stage. My hon. Friend and another colleague voted for legalisation; everyone else voted against it. However, the Leader of the Opposition was absent for the vote on legalisation [Interruption.] I am illustrating the wide range of opinion that exists. I hope that we can all agree that reduction in cannabis use is the key element that must be tackled.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and in particular his review of the classification system. Although the advisory committee has a broad membership, it seems to be more reliable when it comes to the clinical impact of drugs. Classification must take into account much wider questions of how particular
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drugs are used, linksor otherwisewith crime, whether there are ways in which young people are especially vulnerable, and so on. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to produce a system that will ensure that Ministers are advised not just on the clinical issues, but on all the broader factors that my right hon. Friend, like his predecessors and successors, must take into account.
Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend is entirely right. That is why I made my decision. Clinical, medical harm is the advisory council's predominant consideration, contrary to what was said by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), but there are also harmful implications for society more widely in the case of particular drugs, whether they relateas my right hon. Friend suggeststo organised crime or to general social factors. The signals that emerge from the classifications A, B and C can be very confused, so it is important to re-examine the position. I do not think that I am betraying a confidence in saying that Sir Michael Rawlings, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, has welcomed my decision. I believe that that is because the council's members know that getting the classification system right is key to reducing the use of dangerous drugs, which I am determined to do.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I thank the Home Secretary for giving notice of his statement. The Liberal Democrats strongly welcome his decision not to reclassify cannabis. It was a difficult decision, and I know that the Home Secretary did not take it lightly. I am encouraged by the fact that it was taken on the basis of evidence rather than political pressure. The Home Secretary is also right to point out that the drug remains harmful, and the Liberal Democrats will strongly support a new education campaign to make that clear. Does the Home Secretary agree that that campaign must emphasise not just the mental damage but the physical damage involved in the taking of cannabis? Does he also agree, however, that it must not fuel hysteria over issues related to cannabis? That would do little to instil trust in people who are receiving information from the Government on critical issues to do with drugs.
May I warn the Home Secretary against allowing police resources to be spent too heavily on cannabis that is grown for personal use? Will he ensure that they are directed more against organised criminals who are involved in drug dealing? In particular, he must now deliver on his promise to refocus police resources more on class A drugs. That, surely, is where the priority must lie.
Mr. Clarke: I welcome elements of what the hon. Gentleman said. He is right to say that the education campaignI welcome his support for itmust be founded on a hard-hearted and evidential approach based on, for example, the mental health implications, rather than an hysterical approach. [Interruption.] I accept the correction: I should have said "hard-headed" rather than "hard-hearted".
I do not accept, however, that police resources should not be focused on this area, although the hon. Gentleman is right to point out the dangers of class A drugs. As I said in my statement, I think that the police would accept that
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what has happened in the past can be interpreted as suggesting that they should not give priority to dealing with cannabis, but I do not accept that, and neither does ACPO. That is why we have an ACPO campaign aimed at the dealing, growing and production of cannabis. I think it very important for that campaign to proceed alongside the education campaign.
Let me finally say something with all directness to the Liberal Democrats who, I am sad to learn, will not now be led by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). They have a confused position on drugs, which was exposed in a variety of ways during the election campaign. I honestly and sincerely ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to come out and say clearly that consumption of cannabis is wrong and that we must drive it down by all possible means. They must not equivocate on policies surrounding that; they must get up front and campaign with all the rest of us to reduce cannabis use.
Mr. Winnick: May I point out that the only Conservative member of the Home Affairs Committee who voted against the reclassification when we met on 9 May 2002 to decide on our report and recommendations was the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), who took a consistent line? As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the present Leader of the Opposition supported the reclassification and abstained on the question of whether cannabis should be legalised.
Our report stated that some 44 per cent. of people had taken the drug at some point in their lives. I deplore that. I wish that people would not start taking drugs of any kind. We do not want our children to do so, and I hope that we can send a message throughout the country about how dangerous it is to start taking drugs. However, our report also pointed out that 120,000 deaths had been caused in one year alone by smoking, and that thousands of avoidable deaths were caused each year by alcohol abuse. Those drugs are all of a kind. We should deplore excessive use of alcohol and excessive smoking, as well as use of the ordinary drugs to which my right hon. Friend has referred.
Mr. Clarke: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said, but I hope he agrees that, as I said in my statement, the goal of Government policy should be to reduce consumption of all drugs, legal or illegal. That should be the test. Our measures on smoking in public places, on taxation of alcohol consumption and on advertising the effects of consumption are right and in accordance with that. Our criteria must be based on how we drive down consumption of cannabis in the same context. I believe that my statement set out, in a direct and effective fashion, ways of accelerating the reduction of cannabis consumption. We need to do the same in respect of other drugs.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con):
I must say that I was disappointed by the statement, although I welcomed much of it. It is, of course, appalling that the use of cannabis continues. The figures that the Home Secretary gave in relation to use were very flawed, however. If he talks to those on the ground who are taking children off drugs, as we do in the Centre for Social Justice, they will tell him that the police no longer stop people who are using cannabis.
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They have lost all track of how many people actually use it on the ground. In their view, cannabis use has become worse on the ground and is now more dangerous. It is a question not just of psychosis and mental illness, but of massive behavioural problems, more bullying in schools, the theft of telephones and the beating up of children after they leave school. All that has increased.
May I urge the Home Secretary to rethink and to reclassify? If he is now to examine the classification process, may I urge him to look at Sweden, which has dispensed with different classifications? It applies a single classification, which means that all drugs are bad and that people are in trouble if they use them.
The right hon. Gentleman made an important point when he mentioned bullying. He was right to say that bullying, in and outside school, drives many people into consumption of the drug. That is why, in my statement, I spoke of the need to urge young people to have the courage to stand up for themselves in such circumstances.
I will, of course, look at the research that the Centre for Social Justice has carried out on consumption and various other issues, but when the right hon. Gentleman referred to police strategies he put his finger on an important point that is not always understood in these discussions. He is right to say that there has to be a question mark over police strategies in terms of focusing on this area, and the reclassification decision some years ago did not help that process. That is why, as I said in my statement, I have discussed precisely that question with ACPO. We must have a police strategy that says that we will pursue those who consume illegal drugs, and that means cannabis. That is why I did not agree with the point made by the Liberal Democrat spokesman a moment ago. I think we all agree that the key issue to target, other than education, is ensuring that an effective police strategy is in place, so that the police address the issue in communities throughout the country.
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