There is an important international context as well. As the example of Poland shows, if we do not ensure that our neighbours are on side, legislation in one country can be undermined by a lack of legislation in neighbouring states. NPSs are developed and sold across international markets. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has emphasised the

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importance of international collaboration in information collection and data-sharing, and, indeed, the G8 countries have agreed to share data on NPSs. It is worth noting, however, that most of these products are produced in China and India and then shipped in bulk to Europe, where they are sold to consumers. It is also worth noting that the Prime Minister is to meet the Prime Minister of India shortly when he visits the UK—and, of course, we are all too well aware of the state visit of the President of China, which will start tomorrow. Perhaps the Minister will ask the Prime Minister to raise the need for international collaboration on NPSs with both Mr Modi and President Xi Jinping.

In conclusion, the SNP supports the Bill at this stage, but not unequivocally. We believe there is a job ahead for the Bill Committee to catch up with where we should have been now in terms of the definitions, and I would like to think the Committee will take a robust approach and listen to those who have expressed concerns about the working of the Bill, and to those who have more experience, like Professor Iversen, as well as to those who currently use psychoactive substances recreationally. Their voices will inform us greatly.

We do not want to be having to return time and again to amend the Bill, nor do we want to have to look at repealing it because it is unworkable, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) suggested we might have to do at some stage. Let us get it right from the start. The best way to do this is to collaborate with as many interested parties as possible.

9.20 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I rise to speak in favour of the Bill. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), who spoke very eloquently in outlining some of the very real human dangers of some of the substances we are discussing, drawing on the personal experiences of people she knows. It brings home to us that when we debate issues in this House, they are about real people and their lives—and in the current debate are about the effects these psychoactive substances can have, including the potentially devastating effects on people’s mental and physical health. In some rare cases, their use has led to the death of the user, with tragic consequences for their families.

We have had a very consensual debate among Members on both sides of the House. There has been some legitimate probing of some of the nuances and legal framework of the Bill, which will be discussed in greater detail in Committee. The discussion has been beneficial, and it has flagged up a number of the challenges we face when making laws in this area, showing why it is so important this House passes this Bill.

The Bill rightly recognises that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was drawn up at a time when there was a fairly static drugs market. The situation today is very different. We have an influx of hundreds of new products and drugs on to the market almost by the year. Many of these drugs have potential consequences for human health and wellbeing.

I also echo the point made by the shadow Minister and my right hon. Friend the Minister that there has been success in Northern Ireland, which we hope to replicate through the passing of this Bill in England, by helping

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to close down head shops and some access to these substances. The shadow Minister made a compelling point: having shops on the high street that sell substances which can damage human health and lead to death but that appear to be just like any other shop on the high street is a form of legitimising these substances. It is important that we take action through legislation, as this Bill does, and recognise the importance of helping to close down those shops. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) mentioned a shop in Worksop and I am sure there are many others up and down the country that at the moment are seen by many people to be legitimate high street shops. They are not; they are selling substances that can be very damaging to human health.

Indeed, we can draw a parallel with the approach that we have taken, not so much through the criminal law as through drug regulations, to Chinese herbal medicine practitioners. People often believe that such practitioners are perfectly harmless, and many of them do practise in a responsible and harmless way, but some people have died as a result of metal toxicity, including lead poisoning, and other associated consequences of the activities of unscrupulous practitioners in that field. That is why Parliament needs to legislate. We need to point out that just because a shop is on a high street, it is not necessarily carrying out desirable or even safe pursuits. It is our responsibility in this place to make that clear to the public, and that is an important part of the Bill.

We also need to get to grips with another issue in Committee. The general principle behind the Bill is that it will become illegal to supply or intend to supply the drugs, which appears to mean that mens rea will have to be actively involved. We need to consider how suppliers of the medications could try to get round the law. I mentioned Chinese herbalists. I use them only as an example; I am not in any way discriminating against or picking on them. I think that they are covered by schedule 1 to the Bill. We need to examine how people classify themselves as suppliers of these substances. Perhaps they will classify themselves as industrial suppliers, for example, or as Chinese herbalists. We must not allow them to circumvent the intention of the Bill by finding a gap in the law in that way. I hope that we can discuss that in greater detail in Committee, so that the Government can determine whether any parts of the Bill need to be tightened up in that respect.

I also want to speak briefly about education. Simply criminalising certain activities will not necessarily stop them happening, and it is key to recognise that criminalising the people who often use psychoactive substances—the most topical is cannabis, as we discussed in Westminster Hall last week—will not tackle the educational challenge. We need to make people aware of the dangers of using those substances. People who have a mental illness, as well as children and young people, are particularly susceptible to the messages about using the substances and particularly vulnerable to the people who supply them. I would like to hear more in Committee about how we can better educate people.

We need to take a two-pronged approach in dealing with this challenge. Making the substances illegal is absolutely the right thing to do. We have a cumbersome legal framework at the moment, and it takes too long for the Government to act to protect the public. The Bill is all about supporting a much more proactive, interventionist

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approach to protecting the public from the harms of these substances, but it is also important to have an educational strategy for making young people in particular aware of the dangers of the drugs. We need to take that two-pronged approach, and I hope we will hear more about that in Committee.

A further point about cannabis came up in the recent Westminster Hall debate, and I wonder whether there will be an opportunity to table amendments in Committee relating to it. Cannabis is perhaps the best known psychoactive substance, but at the moment there is a potential challenge. Under that slightly antiquated legislation, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis is classified under schedule 1 to the Act. It was seen as having no medicinal benefit, whereas the more recent evidence, for example, from the United States, is clear that there is potential medicinal benefit from cannabis and its derivatives. As we have a Bill dealing with psychoactive substances, surely this is a good opportunity to look at the international examples, such as that of the United States, where more than 20 states have legalised the medicinal use of cannabis and helped to promote additional medical research into its use.

The Bill provides an opportunity to examine that psychoactive substance and the fact that other substances are classified under schedule 2, including methadone, because it has a medicinal purpose. We may recognise that in today’s medical world cannabis has a medicinal purpose, that the old scheduling might be out of date, and that we have an opportunity to enhance medical research and to alleviate the pain and suffering of a number of people who could benefit from the medicinal benefits of cannabis and some of its products. I hope that could be looked into in Committee, because I am sure it would be helpful for medical research and for patients, and I know it would garner a lot of support in parts of the medical community and among a number of patient groups.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer, other than to say that this is a good Bill that addresses some of the current legislative inadequacies in dealing with a fast-moving drugs market, and the House should support it. I hope that the issue of the scheduling of cannabis and the difficulties we face in properly researching and using some of the benefits of cannabis for the relief of pain in palliative care and elsewhere will also be looked into, either as part of this Bill or elsewhere. On that note, I close my remarks by supporting the Government and hoping to carry the whole House with me this evening.

9.32 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I should say at the start that I am instinctively hostile to drugs and their excessive use, be they legal or illegal. I make the same admission as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), the spokesperson for the Scottish nationalists: I have never taken any illegal substance. My absolute anxiety about the impact of drugs on society does not lead me to conclude, however, that this Bill is the right way—the best way—to address the problem. I am anxious about the impact of prohibition. As we have seen so often internationally, it brings with it unintended consequences, so we have to proceed carefully.

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My plea to those who support the Bill is that they accept the bona fides of those of us who have concerns, as we may have exactly the same interest at heart. I share all the anxieties that the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) expressed, but we reach a different conclusion about the best way of addressing this harm. My whole interest is in reducing harm, particularly to young people. My anxiety is that although this Bill is seductive in its attraction, it is none the less misguided.

Steve Brine: I do not mean this unkindly and I realise that the Lib Dems are moving on from the manifesto on which the right hon. Gentleman stood at the last election, but did not that manifesto contain a pledge to implement exactly what his colleague, the former Member for Lewes, laid the groundwork for in government with regard to this Bill?

Norman Lamb: I would have to check that. All I want to do is say what I believe, which is ultimately what we should be doing in debate in this place.

First, let me raise a concern about process. The Government have circumvented the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but they are unwise to do so. Its clear legal remit has been ignored. It is there to advise precisely on such issues. It seemed somewhat cynical to consult it after the text of the Bill had been drafted and just two days before the Bill was laid, and then for the Government to ignore its recommendations. Instead, the Home Office convened a separate new expert group. What on earth is the point of that when we have an advisory committee that is legally obliged to advise on such issues? It seems that the duty of the advisory committee has been fettered in a very damaging way.

The definition seems to be flawed. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said, is it not extraordinary that at this point of our consideration of a Bill there is such concern about the possible implications of a definition? The view of many is that it is impossible to provide a scientifically or legally meaningful definition of a psychoactive substance. The definition is very broad. At least in principle, it could cover thousands of plants, spices, herbal remedies and over-the-counter medicines. The degree of psychoactivity necessary to establish a criminal offence is also completely unclear, as it is unspoken in the Bill, but that will create a legal and scientific minefield. As the advisory committee warned, there is a risk of serious unintended consequences.

Under the blanket ban, there will be absolutely no distinction between very risky substances and relatively safe ones, as all are treated exactly the same under the Bill. Two of the most dangerous drugs of all—alcohol and tobacco—are exempted. Hon. Members should bear in mind that tobacco kills 100,000 people in our country every year. What is more dangerous than that? Alcohol causes untold damage to society, yet it is exempted from the Bill, and that seems to undermine respect for the law.

Let us look at the international evidence. Since a blanket ban was introduced in Ireland in 2010, usage has increased to the point where it is the highest in Europe. That is under a system that involves a ban, so should not that make us pause for reflection? In Poland, there was initially a drop in use after the introduction of a ban, but there was then a dramatic increase in use.

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The number of NPS-induced poisonings—we are now talking directly about harm to individuals—has risen dramatically from 562 cases in 2010 to 1,600 cases in the first 10 months of 2014. Does that not cause the Government to stop and think about the implications of passing the Bill? The analysis of the Home Office—the Department promoting the Bill—says:

“Looking across different countries, there is no apparent correlation between the toughness of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug usage.”

Again, should not the Home Office be reflecting on its own analysis?

John Mann: The hon. Gentleman, like a few others, is making a great play about this Lisbon-based European monitoring body and its report. Can he confirm whether it is a report of all 28 member states and whether the United Kingdom is included in the comparisons, or was the UK, along with the Netherlands and many others, excluded from the Lisbon report?

Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman might be right—I thank him for his intervention—but that does not in any way undermine my concern about what has happened in Poland since the introduction of a ban. The number of poisonings has gone up dramatically.

The effect of the Bill will be to hand the entire supply of these substances to organised crime. What a triumph of Government policy that is, Madam Deputy Speaker.

John Mann: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Lamb: Let me make this point, as I am conscious that other people, perhaps including the hon. Gentleman, want to speak.

Does a criminal have any interest in my welfare? Of course they do not. Remarkably, as we were discussing earlier, the Bill manages to criminalise the purchase of a substance imported from overseas, but does not criminalise the purchase of exactly the same product domestically. Is that not just ridiculous? Can anyone in the Chamber possibly justify that distinction?

The Bill does not criminalise possession for personal use because the expert group acknowledged the negative impact on young people. It is good that that is acknowledged, but if the Government accept that criminalising usage has a negative impact on young people, why not apply that approach to drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act? We have managed to come up with three tiers of approach for substances with a broadly equivalent risk. We have one tier that criminalises the use and supply of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Another approach—the one taken in the Bill—criminalises supply but not possession, while the third approach is the legal supply and use of two of the most dangerous drugs of all, tobacco and alcohol. It seems to me that that undermines respect for the law.

We should at least consider regulation rather than prohibition. If lower-risk drugs were subject to a regulated legal framework, the incentive to develop and market new psychoactive substances would diminish. That is exactly what has happened in the Netherlands, where the de facto legalisation of cannabis has removed from the market far more risky synthetic cannabinoids. The Government ought to reflect on that.

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John Mann: The hon. Gentleman cited Poland, but did not reference his source. He now cites evidence from the Netherlands without referencing his source. Is not his source a badly researched, unquantified report by Transform, which is a pro-drug lobby group, rather than academic research?

Norman Lamb: Rather than dealing with the accusation that the hon. Gentleman makes, my concern is to encourage him to reflect on what I said at the start of my speech. We ought to be able to discuss these issues recognising that while those the other side may sometimes have a different point of view, they might be seeking the same objective. The Government have not carried out any risk analysis of what happened in Ireland since it introduced a ban, but surely that is exactly what they ought to have done.

The Bill is flawed and our debate suggests that many Members recognise its flaws. My fear is that it will not work and that it will be brought into disrepute. My preference would be to work on an approach that protects young people, that avoids enriching criminals as well as lawyers, that provides clarity, rather than legal confusion that can be exploited in court by lawyers, and that is based on health and the reduction of harm.

9.44 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): It is a privilege to be called to speak in this important debate. I join many right hon. and hon. Members from across the House in congratulating the Government on introducing this long-awaited Bill.

We have already heard some powerful speeches on why the Bill is so important, none more so than that from my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine). I agree entirely with the Minister, who began by saying that we have been chasing the chemist for far too long. For far too long, York, along with other cities and towns across the country, has been on the front line in the fight against legal highs. Only by making it an offence to produce or supply these drugs, and by imposing a blanket ban on psychoactive substances, can we be sure to clamp down on this dangerous trade once and for all.

It has been well publicised in both local and national media that NPSs can be purchased on York’s bustling high street. The fact that such dangerous substances can be purchased in the centre of an historic city that welcomes thousands of tourists every year demonstrates the scale of the problem. Furthermore, the ease with which these drugs can be bought for as little as £7 should be at the centre of the debate. It is for those reasons that many impressionable young people have failed to appreciate the dangers of such substances. Even the name, legal highs, gives a misleading impression of safety. Sadly, too many families up and down the country have first-hand experience of the problem, and know that that is not the case, having seen their loved ones suffer the devastating consequences of taking such drugs.

Simply stamping “not fit for human consumption” on a brightly coloured packet that claims that its contents mimic the effects of illegal drugs is not enough to keep people safe. Those who sell such substances know that, yet they are happy to let their customers play a highly dangerous game of Russian roulette in exchange for a quick profit. More needs to be done to establish the impact of NPSs on crime rates. This summer, the shop

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in York to which I referred was broken into late at night as a result of one man’s unquenchable addiction to legal highs. On his arrest, he told police officers that when he took the substances something changed in his mind. It emerged that because of NPSs he had tried to commit suicide and had spent time as an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital. That frightened him so much that, thankfully, he no longer takes those substances, but he is one of the lucky ones.

North Yorkshire police are not alone in experiencing a growing problem with NPSs and the practice of double dosing. People, often recovering drug addicts, use legal highs alongside prescription drugs. They mistakenly believe that legal highs are less harmful because they are sold on the high street. That is the essence of today’s debate. Selling such dangerous substances in a highly appealing way in shops gives the illusion that this trade is in some way acceptable. It is simply not. The sale of legal highs is a trade in human misery. While legal highs have brought out the worst in some, the issue has thankfully brought out the best in others. Voluntary groups such as York against Legal Highs have sprung up across the city, providing valuable information on social media to those who need it. Furthermore, York’s premier newspaper, The Press, has consistently reported on the problem in a responsible and commendable manner. The daily publication deliberately decided against revealing the name of the shop that sold NPSs so as not to provide it with additional publicity. It has also printed many articles highlighting the dangers of consuming legal highs.

That may have saved lives, and it is my sincere hope that the Bill will do the same by clamping down on the trade in these drugs once and for all. However, successful prosecution is vital under the legislation, which means closing all the loopholes. I look forward to seeing further details as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

9.49 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I had the distressing experience of hearing the evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, particularly that of the mother who founded the Angelus Foundation, and heard the terrible experience she had with a young, beautiful, ambitious, gifted daughter whose life was taken away from her by the use of a legal high. Quite rightly, we all empathise with that. We all want to stop that. We all want to reduce the harm caused by drugs, but we should stop falling into this lazy thinking that leads us to believe that a ban on drugs means a reduction in use and a reduction in harm.

We are sent here to legislate and the least we can do is to avoid doing harm. Drug legislation for the past 45 years in this country has done more harm than good. At the time of the 1971 Act there was hardly any cannabis use in Britain. There were 1,000 cocaine and heroin addicts. After 44 years of the strictest prohibition in Europe, there are now 320,000 addicts. Recently we banned mephedrone. Everyone agreed with that. Very few voices were raised in the House against the ban. The assumption, which was naive and evidence-free, was that if we banned mephedrone, harm would go down. It did not; it went from 16% use in the population to 42%. We know what happened in Ireland. Use and harm have increased, rather than being reduced.

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It is a widely believed myth in this country that bans work. But prohibition does not work. Look at the prisons. In a recent parliamentary question I asked how many prisons in this country are drug-free. They have walls around them, they have guards, they have rules, they have searches, but how many are drug-free? The answer that I received was that 81 prisons were drug-free for a month last year. Next question: how many prisons were drug-free for a year? The answer that came back was that one prison had reported no drug use last year. How many prisoners were in that prison? The answer came back: none, because it was closed down. That is the defensive attitude of Government. They had solved the problem of drug use in prison not by taking the drugs out of the prison, but by taking the prisoners out of prison. It is the kind of self-deception that goes on in Governments of all parties.

I attended a debate here once when the Opposition spokesman and the Minister had to leave the Chamber during a three-hour debate because they needed a fix. They were both addicts to tobacco, and they could not see the contradiction between their own addition to a deadly killer drug and the way they were restricting the use of drugs by young people.

The Bill is impossible. There is no way of tackling the issue sensibly. There is an almost infinite number of combinations of chemicals in the drugs that are being produced. The chemistry is ferociously complicated. It can never be proved in vitro that a drug is psychoactive. The test tube shows no emotion. The drug can be tested only on human beings, which is impossible. The challenge throughout the world is one that cannot be solved sensibly and legally by testing for the drug and proving that it is psychoactive.

So what do we do? Well, we are politicians. Dogs bark, babies cry, and politicians legislate. When we cannot think of anything sensible or intelligent to do, we pass a Bill. People will feel good as they think, “We did something about that. We passed a Bill.” This Bill, like most of the other Bills that have gone through this place introducing bans, will probably do more harm than good. There will be more tragedies as a result of this, not fewer. Khat was banned. The idea was that the authorities were going to get rid of khat, but of course they have not got rid of it. Instead, they have pushed a wedge between the Somali and Yemeni communities and the police. They have driven a legal market into being an illegal market. The price has gone up sky high, and the criminals who are now running it are making bigger profits. That has been the story throughout the world.

I ask Members to consider the possibility that they are wrong, and that all parties have been wrong on our drug laws for 45 years. The best thing we can do is to throw out this piece of legislative garbage that disgraces the House and will be treated with derision by future generations.

9.55 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I very much welcome the Bill.

I am tempted to detain the House for many minutes to respond at length to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who repeated the same lines that he has for many years. I respect the fact that he is consistent

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in his liberalising argument. He is now joined by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has gone against what his colleagues did in government when they helped prepare the way for this Bill. They both talk about the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs when they choose to. They both talk about relying on the evidence, but they do not do so when it goes against their argument, which is made of straw. They should listen to the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee. Professor Iversen, the chairman of the ACMD, said that this is the most significant piece of drugs legislation in 40 years, and he and the Committee broadly welcomed it.

There is a consensus in the House that this Bill is not going to prevent everyone from taking NPSs—we all accept that—but it will restrict supply. The Bill is focused on the suppliers of this evil trade. The hon. Member for Newport West talks about a deception. I will tell him what a deception is—it is in any way suggesting that NPSs are legal and safe. That is a deception that has harmed people and led to lost lives, and we are going to tackle it. We are not just going to hold up our hands and make the liberalising arguments saying “Let’s try and do something different.” We need to focus on the supply. This Bill does that, and I welcome it.

Five years ago, on 9 September, I urged the then responsible Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), to follow the route that has already been trodden by the Irish, recognising that what we have been trying to do in this House, which has been pretty much a useless deception, is to catch up. We have been trying to react to the latest NPS on the market with the temporary class orders that followed on from the advice given by the ACMD, and then we eventually get to the point of having a statutory instrument that is far too late for young people, particularly, in our country. This Bill will at last try to be proactive and respond quickly and expeditiously. What happened in Ireland will happen here.

The Bill says loud and clear that it is calling time on head shops in Bassetlaw and elsewhere and saying very clearly, “Give up, go away—the police are going to come after you and get rid of you. Make sure that you don’t carry on the deception where you are selling these substances used for research on fertilisers, air fresheners and herbal incenses.” That is what I call garbage—not safe garbage but garbage that harms young lives. This approach is worthwhile, but it is not going to solve the problem. There are problems with the internet and with importation and exportation, and we need to do a lot more.

The Bill is not perfect. It needs improvement and scrutiny, particularly in relation to the definition. I declare an interest as a criminal defence lawyer. I want to make sure that my colleagues who are still practising will not be faced with extra loopholes and unintended defences because they are unable to look at the definition as they can now and say, “We are going to have to instruct experts to measure the issue of psychoactivity to assess the behavioural aspects.”

We recognise the example in Ireland, where the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has said of the problems with the current definition:

“We are relying on scientists to assist us with these prosecutions and, unfortunately, they haven’t been able to provide the evidence to us.”

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We have also listened to the ACMD, which said:

“The only definitive way of determining psychoactivity is via human experience, which is usually not documented.”

I remember my days dealing with the issue of cannabis and its impact on fitness to drive—

10 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),

That, at today’s sitting, second reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords], may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Midnight.—(Sarah Newton.)

Question agreed to.

Debate resumed.

Question again proposed, That the Bill be read a Second time.

Mr Burrowes: Attempting to prove the behavioural impact of cannabis on fitness to drive is subjective and can cause problems. It can result in prosecutions failing and can defeat lawyers and experts. We need to consider the ACMD’s additional recommendation to link the definition of psychoactive to the public health threat. That, together with certain tests included in the Bill, will provide objectivity and clarity.

We need to work on sentences as well as definitions. As I said in an earlier intervention, it is important that someone who is convicted in court is dealt with in a way that is commensurate with their offence. They must be dealt with justly, which means that cases involving controlled drugs should be linked to harm. We need to look carefully at that. The Sentencing Council will have its work cut out, but we should ensure that it is able to play a leading role in ensuring that people are sentenced appropriately. The maximum sentence is seven years, but plainly not everyone who supplies NPSs will face that penalty. In such cases, one usually considers purity as well as the links to harm.

We all agree on education and treatment. Between 2013 and 2015, £180,556 has been spent on NPS education. We need to do better than that. This Bill should spark off further educational investment. Prison education is also important. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who has responsibility for prisons, is present. I understand that in the past year, 30 ambulances have attended north-west prisons because of NPSs. That is an issue of education as well as of restricting supply. Something is clearly going wrong and it is impacting on our prisons.

On treatment, we visited the drug clinic in Chelsea and Westminster. It is run by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Its specialist, bespoke work does a great job of addressing why someone takes a particular drug as well as treating them. That provides a lesson not just for specialist clinics, but for our treatment system, which is behind the times. Gone are the days when we just doled out a substitute drug to treat those addicted to opiates, crack and other controlled drugs. We are talking about the new drug on the market and it is causing harm. We must ensure that the drug treatment system across the country wakes up to the fact that we should deal not just with the substance, but with the addict and provide all the therapeutic support they need and deserve. I hope the Bill will spark off that approach.

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I have waited many years for this Bill, as have others. I will not take up any more time. Colleagues who are waiting to go home have been very patient, but I hope they feel that this Bill is worth the wait.

10.3 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), particularly in debates about drugs. Indeed, one could say that he came to the kinder form of politics—and made his initial contribution to the topic under discussion—well in advance of the rest of the House. A number of us have weighed into previous debates and backed the concept that only a blanket ban could possibly work, because anything else would constantly be chasing something that was always elusive.

There are differences of opinion. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) represents another form of kinder politics. He is a great font of wisdom when it comes to his brilliant work on mental health, but he struggled to evidence his case tonight because the evidence is not there. The argument is based on assertions by lobbyists who are lobbying for a particular political outcome. The evidence base does not exist. I would not call this great survey that has been cited a rigged survey, but it is not a full survey. It misses out whole countries—the United Kingdom, for example—so comparing Ireland with all the countries of eastern Europe, where statistics are not calculated in so defined a way as in this country, is not making a valid international comparison. Statistics do not exist, on either side of the argument, about what might or might not work.

We need to look at the evidence base. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has always been consistent in this approach—I do not know whether he has been in the House for quite 45 years, but he has been very consistent all the way along—but that has not been the response of all of us to making legislation. My approach to drugs when I entered the House 14 years ago was not to rush in to demand legislation; it was to go into the communities to talk to those using drugs, to their families and, yes, to the victims of crime who suffered in vast numbers from that drug use in my constituency and get their evidence. That is what I have done when it comes to psychoactive substances: to ask those in the communities that suffer the most about their experience.

My instinct for a long time—this is why I have called, both in my party and in the Houses of Parliament, for a blanket ban for a long time—has been that there was sufficient evidence, from what I could see on the ground, that lives were being damaged. With these substances, I found that it was particularly common for the users to be young. We all talk about young people and the misuse of drugs, but I found that the age profile is much lower for these drugs than for others. It is very much the school or the just post-school generation who are the most susceptible or the most attracted and to whom the worst episodes happen. I could give chapter and verse, as other hon. Members have, of precise examples of horrific things that have happened to my constituents, but what is uniform is how young they are in each case.

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It is the traditional working-class mining communities in my area who are the most adamant that shops such as Bing Bong in Worksop—not far from my office—should be shut down. They know who goes past the darkened windows and in through the shut door to buy drugs. Let us kill the myth that that is all done legally. I can tell hon. Members that there is a huge illicit market alongside such shops. How can 14 and 15-year-olds access drugs? If they were going into such shops, that would be easy. I would soon have those places shut down for illegal trading. They are not buying the stuff there; there is a huge secondary market. Who provides the secondary market? The same people. We call them drug dealers, but that term is not particularly accurate. They sell all sorts—alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine and, if they can get it, heroin. They sell anything that is going, any kind of pills and any bag of anything. Those people are providing far more drugs in my community than Bing Bong, although that may well be one of the initial sources.

If hon. Members want to know what is happening with drugs, it is always good to go and talk to those in the post office or the sorting office. They are highly unionised in my area and they are always happy to talk to me. They tell me, officially or unofficially, what is going on. There are all sorts of dodgy packages. Without having to refer to the police, they show me some of the addresses, and I think, “Hang on a minute. I can see what’s going on here.” There are addresses that get no post other than these strange envelopes. Perhaps people are purchasing something else, but I suspect not; I suspect that these substances—often junk—are being provided to them.

What else can we do as a Parliament? Of course education is good, but how can we educate such people when names change and the actual substances can change? That can have a dramatic impact on people, and the motivation for taking something changes, because they do not know until they have had it what it might result in; they can only copy somebody else. That is precisely why I and a few others, including the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), have argued repeatedly that the crudeness of a blanket ban is the only way to deal with this problem. That is why I applaud the Government’s speed. Yes, there will be problems in getting the legislation exactly right, but there is no other coherent approach that will work.

I want this legislation for my constituents, particularly my constituents who are well informed on this matter—the mothers and grandmothers who deal with this problem all the time. They are the ones who come and see me to demand that Bing Bong is closed down and that this stuff is forced off the streets, where possible.

This is not just about legislation. My area has done more to get people off heroin than anywhere else in the country. That has not been done through legislation, but through effective research, arguing the case and putting good systems in place. When I was elected, a lot of people were on heroin. When I look at statistics, I do not look at those for the prevalence of drug use, which are unreliable, but at crime statistics, burglary statistics and hospital statistics on overdoses—how many have there been, how many have resulted in death, how many have resulted in in-patient stays and what the cost of all that is. Those are real statistics that quantify this problem over time. In my area, we have got on top of a lot of these problems, but not through legislation.

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I am seeing these problems slowly creep back in. Last weekend, I spoke to people who came off heroin nine or 10 years ago. Their view is that we need to act. Their view is that Bing Bong and its products need to be removed. Why? Their advice is that this market is fuelling the overall market in illicit drugs. They know that because they know what is happening and the people it is happening to. They can give evidence that goes way beyond the normal statistics.

I put only one caveat to the Government. The Government have made a big mistake with heroin treatment. They have decided to play the role of doctor by specifying what should happen with methadone. In Brighton, Pavilion, the privatised service run by Crime Reduction Initiatives has led to the biggest increase in heroin deaths anywhere in Britain. That organisation now runs the privatised service in my constituency and across Nottinghamshire, using the methadone elimination model that the Government have brought in. My message and that of those who have been on heroin in my area—

Caroline Lucas: Rubbish!

John Mann: No, it’s not rubbish; it’s factual.

My message to the Government and the message of those in my area who have been on heroin is to let the doctors make the medical decisions, not the politicians. Let those who have been on methadone in my area stay on methadone, so that they are stable, out of crime, back at work and are not dragged in with their families and called drug addicts again, which is what is happening in my area with Crime Reduction Initiatives—this so-called charity. I say the same thing when it comes to psychoactive substances: let the doctors determine the treatment, not the politicians. On this, the Government have got it wrong.

Through his brilliant and superb Parliamentary Private Secretary, I invite the Minister with responsibility for drugs to meet some of the people in my constituency in the near future.

Caroline Lucas: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was only just walking in when he started talking about Brighton, Pavilion. The randomised injecting opioid treatment trial—RIOTT—in Brighton, Pavilion has had some of the best results in the whole country in getting people off heroin. When I was elected in 2010, Brighton was the drugs death capital of Britain. It no longer is and some excellent work on drug deaths is going on. The hon. Gentleman should do a bit of homework and know his facts before he makes such claims.

John Mann: I have done my homework and I can tell you that it is a place where heroin deaths are going up. This mickey mouse charity replacing GPs offering real treatment has been disastrous in Brighton, disastrous in Nottinghamshire and disastrous elsewhere in the country. You should talk to those who have been on heroin—

Caroline Lucas: I have!

John Mann: Talk to those who have been on heroin in my area and see what it is doing to them, their lives, their children and those who are back at work. It is a disaster.

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I hope that the Minister will come to my constituency —he will get in and out safely with my assistance—and meet people privately. That will also give him and the Government—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady asks how I dare. She should come and talk to those heroin addicts about that mickey mouse waste-of-time charity from Brighton that has come in and replaced GPs and the national health service. It is a privatised service. The so-called Green party, with its privatised NHS—but that is a separate argument. I hope the Minister will come to my constituency, because with these substances we should trust GPs and medical experts to solve the problem.

Caroline Lucas: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The way that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has been carrying on in the House is completely unacceptable. He has launched into an unfounded attack—[Interruption.] Will you just be quiet? CRI has nothing to do with the Green party, and it is out of order to make such accusations with absolutely no evidence. To blame that on Brighton and the Green party is simply wrong.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order, but things are getting a little heated. She was making comments from a sedentary position and the debate got rather heated. I do not know what the facts are so I cannot make a judgment on that, but it would be good if we could move on now. John Mann, is the speech complete?

John Mann: The speech is now complete.

10.16 pm

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I hope to make a short contribution, which might be less colourful than his. I am pleased to support the Bill and the powers that it will give the police and local authorities to tackle the sale and misuse of dangerous drugs.

In Pendle, there is genuine concern about the use of so-called legal highs, especially among young people. Just two weeks ago, I joined Lancashire-based charity, Early Break, which educates young people about the dangers of drug use and helps those who are affected by substance misuse. I accompanied its outreach team on the streets of Nelson, to see at first hand the impact of drugs on young people in my area, and on their families and the wider community.

Early Break told me that since 2011 and the emergence of mephedrone, there has been a big shift in the substances that young people are using compared with when it started working in the area 21 years ago. It is well connected to younger residents in my area, especially though its use of social media to get its message across, and young people recognise Early Break as a key provider of support and advice. Last year, Manchester Metropolitan University evaluated its outreach to young members of Burnley and Pendle’s BME communities and praised its work highly. Sadly, the university’s findings also made clear just how normal it is for young people in my area of all backgrounds to take drugs.

The rise in legal highs, which mimic drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines or ecstasy, causes wider social issues that our police, social services, NHS and schools

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have to deal with daily. As a community first responder with the North West ambulance service, I have seen with my own eyes the effects of drug addiction. I have dealt with people who have overdosed and seen the harm that drugs do, and I know the damage that they cause to communities.

More and more, the problems that we come across in Pendle are with not traditional drugs but legal highs. These drugs are legal not because they are safe, but because we have not got round to banning them. The people profiting from this evil trade have a head start on those who are trying to remove drugs from our streets, and it is time that those who are opposed to the Bill open their eyes to the damage that the current law allows. Making legal highs illegal sends a clear message—the right message—that those drugs are not safe and that young people simply should not be taking them. Be under no illusions: lives are being wrecked, and in many cases lost, to legal highs.

Our local police are working incredibly hard to fight the drugs trade. Two years ago, they launched Operation Regenerate to target organised criminal gangs and drug dealers in Brierfield and Nelson. I had the pleasure of introducing the then policing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), to some of the dedicated officers working on Operation Regenerate when he visited my constituency in June 2014. Although the officers were hugely effective, they could not touch those selling legal highs. The number of legal highs available as a substitute for illegal drugs, as well as the speed with which banned drugs are replaced on the market, undermine the efforts of our police to protect young people and to get drugs off our streets. When I speak to police officers in my constituency, I am told of their frustration when they arrest someone for selling illegal drugs, but then find that an equally or more harmful drug that is perfectly legal is being sold just down the road.

Most damagingly, while these drugs are technically legal, saying that they are legal implies that they are safe. Young people told Mixmag in a survey that they take them because they are more available than illegal drugs. Indeed, as many hon. Members have said, they are openly sold online and in head shops. Early Break is clear that legal highs are not safe and the House should be clear about that issue, too. Legal highs can cause a lack of inhibitions, drowsiness, paranoia, comas, seizures and even death. They can also play a role in the grooming of young girls by gangs, which use them as a gateway to drug addiction and sexual exploitation.

I do not wish to detain the House, so I shall conclude by saying that the Bill will be warmly welcomed by those authorities dealing with the consequences of dangerous drugs and young people themselves who fear that many of their friends are at risk of serious harm. I strongly welcome the Bill, which is necessary to ensure that we are doing our best to keep young people safe and to stop people from profiteering through peddling dangerous substances on our streets.

10.21 pm

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): We can call these things what we like—legal highs, new psychoactive substances, NPSs, lethal highs—but it all amounts to

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the same thing: a product that is highly dangerous, addictive and readily available on our streets. In my constituency, these horrendous substances are blighting the lives of those taking them, creating havoc for the communities who have to endure the antisocial behaviour associated with them and terrifying the families of those young people who take them. Mothers have told me they fear that the next time their child walks through the door, it could be the last time they see them. The biggest problem is that we do not really know how to treat those who react badly to them.

Emergency admissions caused by these drugs have soared by 1,460% in just three years at my A and E department at Morriston hospital in Swansea. Between April and August this year, 78 people were admitted to that department, whereas in the whole of last year, 46 were treated. In 2013-14, 16 were treated. Between 2012 and 2013, fewer than five were treated. Such is the growth in numbers that Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board now specifically records the numbers of legal high admissions.

The packaging and naming of these killers are intended to look and sound attractive. They have colourful sachets with names such as Spice, Gogaine, Exodus and Rush. They are normally labelled as “room deodorisers” and will be stamped as “not fit for human consumption”, yet I am reliably informed that staff at the head shops will often advise customers how to take them. The chemical composition of the drugs is unknown, but I would argue that all should be regarded as potentially fatal, as taking them even once may lead to lasting physical and/or psychological harm.

So-called legal highs, which can come in powder, pill or herbal form, are designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, including cannabis, and can have stimulant or hallucinogenic properties. Most of the drugs are produced in China, India and, to a lesser degree, eastern Europe. Many local drugs projects and local police are now running schemes that are dedicated to raising awareness of the potential risks and harms involved with taking these substances, and giving harm reduction advice to those who intend to use them. Just last week, Swansea police embarked on a roadshow of local schools to highlight the problem to years 7 and 8. The loudest message, however, must be that legal does not mean safe. I have heard stories of vulnerable people, perhaps in debt to a dealer, being used as guinea pigs to test the potency of a new batch—the term “Russian roulette” comes to mind. I have also heard of heroin dealers who are so concerned about losing customers to these new substances that they offer former addicts freebies to entice them back.

At present, substances are banned on a case-by-case basis, but with so many different versions being produced, a blanket ban is essential. Since the Republic of Ireland legislated to introduce a similar ban, the indications are that the problem has dramatically reduced. In my constituency, I have had meetings with and briefings from the police, whose hands are tied by the legality of the drugs, and trading standards, which is often the only agency that is able effectively to police the sale of these horrendous substances. There is an increase in the number of prosecutions, but analysing the products is a time-consuming and costly process. The city and county of Swansea are leading the way with good practice, as are South Wales police, but given that they have one hand tied behind their backs, they are finding the job difficult.

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I urge the House to come together as one to ensure that these sickening and fatal substances are removed from our society once and for all. As a politician, I am extremely concerned about them, but as a mother, I am terrified.

10.26 pm

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP): I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) in supporting the Bill, but I also have reservations and concerns, which I will cover in my remarks.

In Midlothian, as in constituencies throughout the country, we have seen the tragedy that legal highs can bring. Only this year a young man in Gorebridge died after injecting a new psychoactive substance, and it was not quick—it took him seven weeks to die. Despite several operations and a huge effort from medical staff, he eventually died from septicaemia, so death is not always immediate. Despite such tragic and unnecessary deaths, however, there is still a legal high retailer right in the centre of the county town of Dalkeith in Midlothian, so the risk of more unnecessary deaths continues. I praise those in my constituency who have long campaigned against this retailer and the dangers such substances present. The campaign is supported by the local press, through TheMidlothian Advertiser, local MSPs Christine Graham and Colin Beattie, Midlothian Council, particularly Councillor Margot Russell, and the safer communities board, which has worked with partners to address the dangers presented by NPSs in every possible way.

Although I welcome the Bill and have no doubt that it is necessary, we can and must do much more to address the issue as a whole. Organisations have raised their concern that illegal dealing networks might be boosted by the closure of so-called head shops, so the Bill as it stands might not achieve its aims and could even have serious unintended consequences. I therefore agree that we need to thrash out the detail in Committee.

It is not often that I agree with the House of Lords, but I noted with interest a few of the points made in the debates there, especially regarding the notion that while the aims of the Bill are clear, the underpinning legislation— the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—probably needs to be reviewed. If we do not take that chance now, it will be a missed opportunity. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) said something similar. Although I am disappointed that that proposal did not receive the support in the Lords that it warranted, I am grateful that it received such attention. Perhaps that could be considered during the Bill’s passage.

We certainly should do what we can do now, but if the Bill passes, it should come into action alongside a robust and solid plan that focuses on educating our youngsters not just about NPSs, but about all drugs—legal or otherwise, To achieve the necessary level of awareness, we will need far-reaching drugs education as much as the Bill.

Research by the Angelus Foundation, which I believe is the only dedicated charity looking at and combating legal highs, was established by a mum, Maryon Stewart, who lost her 21-year-old daughter to a NPS in 2009. It identified that

“currently only 15% of schools teach drugs and alcohol education for one hour or more per term”.

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We need to look at the problem in much more detail, and I very much encourage more emphasis on education. While this Bill represents some progress, it is not enough. We must do more to inform teenagers in all our communities about legal highs and other drugs. We also need to get effective preventive messages to young people through all kinds of social media. Let us address young people through the ways they access information.

I want to make clear the challenges surrounding the identification and exclusion of substances. It is right that the approach should be robust and preventive, but we must consider the impacts for medical and scientific research and give careful consideration in our approach to which substances should be banned. This, of course, must be balanced with the need to keep up to date with the ever-changing chemical compounds of the substances, as other Members have mentioned. The other huge challenge is the time gap between a new drug becoming available and an opportunity for the Government to react against it. We must ensure that sufficient resources are in place to deal with these challenges, so I ask the Government to outline clearer details about that as the Bill goes through its next stages.

10.32 pm

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Bill, and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that many of my Chester constituents will share that feeling. I pay tribute to the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice who has taken on this issue with his usual no-nonsense approach, which is to be applauded.

Members who know the city of Chester will know it as an historic city with great tourist attractions—the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) spoke in similar terms earlier—but one that has been blighted by a large usage of legal highs in the city centre. On a Friday a couple of weeks ago, I was on a walking tour around my constituency. I was on the road in a double row of shopping streets known historically as the world’s first shopping mall when we were disturbed by a paramedic and a police officer racing up with their blue lights on to attend an emergency. A young gentleman was splayed, arms akimbo, completely unconscious on the road, not 30 yards away from a legal high shop. It took no amount of medical knowledge to understand what had happened.

The local council in western Chester is seeking to implement a public space protection order, and the Cheshire police have recently introduced community prevention notices on three shops in Chester that have been selling these legal highs, asking them to desist from doing so. Members would be right to ask why, if those measures are in place, we need the Bill. Well, the Bill will put us on the front foot and enable us to tackle rather than just chase after the problems, giving us for the first time a proactive approach to combating them.

Members have raised questions about the advisability of forcing legal highs underground. With his permission, I should like to quote my constituent, Daniel Schott. He writes and blogs about life in Chester, and he is a recovering legal highs addict who is currently looking for work. I believe that in talking about his own difficulties and putting his own frailties on the line to prevent others from falling into the trap into which he has fallen, he has adopted a very brave approach.

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Daniel said that a major part of the problem was the fact that the drugs were so accessible, because the shops were open from 10 am until 5.30 pm every day.

“It just spiralled out of control really”,

he said.

“We didn’t think it was harmless, we thought it was the Holy Grail because I could walk into the shop and pay on Switch. If I was smoking weed then I had to find a dealer. He might have some he might not, then we have to meet up, wait down a dark alley somewhere or wherever you get this sort of stuff from. This isn’t like a weed dealer. You can go from 10 am in the morning and pay by Switch.”

We may be forcing the supply of legal highs underground, but we are certainly making it a whole lot harder and a whole lot less normal for ordinary people to become involved with these drugs. That is why it is important to recognise that, whatever the complications, this is absolutely the right thing to do. I pay tribute again to my constituent Mr Schott for the way in which he has shared his experiences. He has urged everyone to back the Bill because he found himself in such a desperate circumstance.

In the spirit of cross-party consensus, I want to introduce a note of party-political criticism—criticism, that is, of the previous administration of Cheshire West and Chester council, which, under the terms of the public health contract, put the local drug and alcohol addiction clinic out to tender when it did not need to do so, and refused to allow the current NHS provider, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, to go beyond the initial stage of bidding. That led to a hollowed-out and greatly diminished drug and alcohol service in Chester.

Members on both sides of the House have talked of the importance of education, but I do not want us to criminalise people with addictions. Addiction is a health problem, and should be dealt with through health policy. It is a shame that the provision for drug and alcohol support in Chester has been so diminished. I hope that at some point we shall be able to rebuild it, and that, as well as dealing with the criminal matters to which the Minister referred, we shall be able to implement a health policy along with the education policy that other Members have described. Chester is a small, historic city, which has been blighted by the three shops that are selling these products.

Mike Penning: I apologise for intervening—I know that my colleagues would like to go home—but I think that the issue of head shops is very important. When I announced this policy, one of the first newspapers that rang me was one in Falkirk. This is so moving that I think that the House should know about it. I was told that yesterday a gentleman and a 16-year-old girl—I shall not mention any names—went to a head shop and bought what they thought was a safe, legal product for a bit of fun. I do not know whether they paid with a credit card. The gentleman took the drug and died within two minutes. The girl was critically ill, and we do not know what the long-term effects will be. We know about the 129 people who died last year, and we have the other figures about people who have died, but we do not have figures that would tell us how many lives had been destroyed and how many people have lost their loved ones.

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Christian Matheson: I absolutely understand the Minister’s point. As I said earlier, I believe that the Bill will put us on the front foot rather than chasing after the problem, and I welcome it. I am sure that a large proportion of my constituents will support it as well, because so many of them have seen at first hand, around the city centre, the effects of legal highs on people who are addicted to them and seriously damaged by them, and who are often found sprawled semi-conscious or unconscious, or being treated by paramedics.

10.39 pm

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this debate. It is important to focus on why we need a novel piece of legislation like this. It is because the traditional, general classification of illegal substances does not suit circumstances in which natural compounds do not maintain their composition and, more than that, there is an easy ability to alter the chemical composition of these legal highs. Traditional classification could be achieved, but so could a slight alteration creating a different product that therefore falls foul of the legislation. That, of course, is the intended purpose.

As has been fairly reflected throughout the House this evening, the legal highs that are available are not only dangerous but can cause catastrophic consequences not only for the young people who use them, but for their wider family and the communities in which they live. We know of deaths and we know of tragedies within our own constituencies. When I was Lord Mayor of Belfast I had the opportunity to go out with FASA. It was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), but Hansard could not decipher his dialect. FASA is the forum for alcohol and substance abuse. It has been involved in significant amounts of research within the city of Belfast on legal highs. Through it, I had the pleasure of meeting people who have been affected and were attracted by a product which is marketed particularly for young people. Many names have been mentioned: china white in Belfast, pink panther in Belfast, magic dragon in Belfast, with cartoon characters and colourful print, designed and marketed so that young people find them attractive.

I was then introduced by FASA to young people—sorry, by hardened drug users. This is important. The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) got it wrong when he said we do not want to be pushing the sale of legal highs towards those who sell illicit drugs—currently classified as A and B drugs. This is where there was a mistake. When I met the hardened drug users, they said, “We wouldn’t touch that stuff. We wouldn’t touch legal highs with a bargepole.” We have stuff in Belfast that is advertised as 10, 15 or 20 times the strength of opiates, yet it is classified as a legal high. That is one of the significant difficulties. Those who are used to using illegal class A or B drugs would not touch this stuff at all because of the impact on them and, more importantly, on young people who are lured into believing that these are a safer option.

It is only fair to say to the Minister that there is a difficulty with the definition in the legislation, because there has been a difficulty in implementing a similar definition in the courts in the Republic of Ireland. The Minister was treated unfairly at the start of the debate about the Republic of Ireland experience. As somebody

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who lives just over the border, 100 miles away from Dublin, I travel there quite regularly. Anyone who knows Dublin or who arrives at Connolly station will know that the street that takes them from there to O’Connell street was a pound shop alley 10 years ago and a head shop alley five years ago. It was not an attractive street to walk down. I was there three weeks ago, and there is not one head shop on that street. That is the marked improvement there has been in the Republic of Ireland, but it cannot gain convictions because the definition is too onerous. At any given stage with each individual—with their own make-up and the alternate make-up of the legal high—it is difficult to prove that that product would have had a psychological impact on them. The Minister is aware of those difficulties.

Clause 4 addresses production. I know what is intended by the clause when it says that “the person” must either intend

“to consume the psychoactive substance”

or know or be “reckless as to whether” it is likely to be consumed by “other persons”. Many hon. Members throughout the debate have referred to standard household products that are freely available and freely manufactured or produced. Those are not made for human consumption, but someone could be reckless if they did not acknowledge that they might be consumed by individuals. I am thinking of air fresheners, pot pourri, deodorants and superglue. We all know that such items were abused by individuals 10 or 15 years ago. Glue was a particular case in point. There have also been deaths associated with aerosols and deodorisers. It is important for the Minister to take the opportunity to state explicitly, in our forthcoming discussions as well as in the Bill as it stands, that the production and manufacture cannot be reckless.

Mike Penning: This is why we have given such wide-ranging powers to trading standards in the legislation. When we had the glue problem, we addressed it through trading standards legislation, which is why we no longer have the terrible problem that we had on our streets just a few years ago.

Gavin Robinson: I am grateful to the Minister.

Before I touch on our experience in Belfast, I want to mention one quirky concern that has been raised by the Association of English Cathedrals. It fears that incense might no longer be able to be used in worship. I am not sure whether it needs to be exempted from the legislation. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that.

Mike Penning: Let’s just knock this one on the head once and for all. I have written to all the bishops to tell them that incense in churches will be exempt. Done. Finished. No problem.

Gavin Robinson: Thank you very much, Minister. I am sure that the bishops will be delighted. That is a positive note.

I started by describing my involvement in this issue when I was Lord Mayor of Belfast—

Jim Shannon: My hon. Friend is far too modest to tell the House that he was involved in the legislative change in Belfast City Council that set a precedent for the whole of Northern Ireland. Will he acknowledge

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that that legislative change in Belfast could set a precedent for the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Gavin Robinson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although he did not give me the opportunity to be modest or otherwise. But we will get there.

Rather than describing the legislative change, I want to outline the approach that Belfast has taken to legal highs. I think that would be valuable for the Ministers present here tonight, and for the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), as well as for the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and his Bing Bong shop, to which he has been referring all evening.

Because of my experience as Lord Mayor, I tabled a motion and got involved in action on this issue with our town solicitor, John Walsh, who was supported by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland. I have heard numerous colleagues saying that their councils have been frustrated because they have been unable to pursue or to make significant achievements on head shops in their constituencies. We have made such achievements in Belfast, however. We went down the trading standards route and we tackled the shops on the basis that they were selling products that were harmful to the public and that were being sold for human consumption. The Attorney General and the town solicitor for Belfast went to the four or five head shops in the city, all of which were concentrated in an area of seedy sex shops. The sale of legal highs was associated with that world. Not one of those shops now sells legal highs. That is a success. Two of them refused to abide by confiscation and destruction orders, and that is how we got the High Court to approve the necessary actions in Belfast.

So there are steps that local authorities can take today, with or without this new legislation, and I assume that if they do so, they will be able to use the same legislation that we did. We seized criminal assets without the assistance of this Bill, which was crucial. Although two of the shops refused to comply with the confiscation and destruction orders, the courts finally upheld the ruling that legal highs may no longer be sold in head shops in Belfast. Those shops have since closed.

The Government are to be commended for the speed with which they are proceeding with this Bill, and we must now consider how best we can hone it. We must consider issues relating to production, and to whether individual possession should be criminalised. Those matters can be debated in Committee. In the meantime, however, hon. Members can make changes today. They can remove this dreadful scourge from society. Legal highs are destroying young lives, destroying families and destroying communities, and it is important for all of us to bring their proliferation to an end.

10.49 pm

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): I will be as quick as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker. Like my colleagues, I support the Second Reading of this Bill, but not without a degree of hesitation and of sympathy for the arguments contained in the reasoned amendment. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I would like to thank all those who

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submitted written evidence or gave oral evidence to our short inquiry, and the staff and the former patient of the Club Drug clinic we visited for their constructive and thoughtful criticisms of the Bill. It is fair to say that there was broad, but not unanimous, support for the overarching aims and approach of the legislation.

As the Minister said at the outset, the strategy proposed also had backing from a Scottish Government expert review group and from a report by the Welsh Assembly Health and Social Care Committee. Given that consensus, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) that it is surprising and a little frustrating—

Mr Burrowes: I believe the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee wanted to make it clear that we know people are waiting for our report and it will be out on Friday in all good shops—and, no doubt, in the Vote Office.

Stuart C. McDonald: Absolutely. I do not intend to give away any of our conclusions or the recommendations we are going to be making in that report. I am merely referring to evidence that was given in oral sessions or in the written evidence which is freely available.

It is frustrating that we are so far into the legislative process and yet some fundamental questions are still to be resolved. Of course, nothing could be more fundamental than the definition of “psychoactive substance” itself. Addressing that will be the first and most important task of the Public Bill Committee, and it will have to assess whether the definition currently proposed is preferable to that put forward by the ACMD.

A second fundamental problem was highlighted by the evidence provided by both Police Scotland and the Scottish Government on how the current definition of a “psychoactive substance” will require evidence from qualified experts with experience of working with NPSs in order to be able to identify the substance and prove its psychoactivity. Establishing that knowledge base against the background of the fast-paced evolution of psychoactive substances would be difficult, and a constant requirement for expert evidence in court would be very costly. Some of the contradictory reports from Ireland suggest similar problems, and again serious scrutiny of these issues is still required.

Perhaps the most important thing to say about this legislation—we have appreciated this during our inquiry—is, as another hon. Member said, that we cannot see this Bill as a silver bullet. Of far more significance will be the strategies that must be put in place to prevent harm through education and awareness raising, and to intervene where individuals are at risk—that includes the risk that some, but far from all, psychoactive substance users will move to controlled substances or to unregulated dealers. We also need to reduce harm. It is only fair to say that there is a huge distance to travel before we can say that this is being done as well as it must be done. Perhaps in Committee we will be able to consider making information on these matters an express part of the review requirement under clause 57.

In short, this Bill is not a silver bullet—indeed, we could shoot ourselves in the foot if we are not careful to get this right. If the Bill is scrutinised carefully and amended in the light of the evidence, it could be a useful first step in tackling the dangers that many Members

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have spoken about and that are posed by new psychoactive substances, but the Government need to address the legitimate questions that have been asked tonight. They include questions about the definition, the problems with clause 8, the issue of purchasing for friends, the contradictory evidence from Ireland and the potential for displacement. I wish the Bill Committee well in sorting it all out.

10.53 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): First, let me thank right hon. and hon. Members for contributing to this good debate. I wish to thank the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine), for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the hon. Members for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn), for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) for their contributions.

Before I start my contribution, I wish to echo the Minister’s words in opening by congratulating the work of my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, who has long championed this campaign. I am pleased to see her in her place. May I also admit that I was very pleased to hear the Minister’s assurance on the issue of incense? As someone who has served as a thurifer, I do like the odd whiff of incense, so I am quite happy with what I heard in that regard.

I am not a member of the shadow Home Office team, but I am a member of the shadow Health team. As a number of Members have said, this Bill is as much to do with public health as it is to do with home affairs. I commend my own party for recognising the importance of the public health element of the Bill, as we do not want the Bill to remain the sole preserve of the Home Secretary. It is regrettable that we have to resort to criminal sanctions to control the flow of these substances, but a Government must do many things that perhaps might be considered regrettable.

With my public health hat on, I will begin by raising the point that local government is just not getting enough support from the Home Office. Local authorities spend about a quarter of their health budget on drugs and alcohol misuse. I was very concerned to hear my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester talk about how the tendering of the service under the previous administration in Cheshire West and Chester has led to a worsening service for those involved in drug and alcohol misuse. Across England, about £760 million a year is spent on drug and alcohol misuse.

I was disappointed that the Government rejected Labour’s amendments to this Bill in the other place. The amendments would have put a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to help schools educate children about the dangers of these substances. Some very powerful points were made by Members across the House, and across the various parties, on the importance of education and of raising awareness among young people. This legislation will have a profound effect on public attitudes towards these substances, but only with the appropriate education and public information strategies.

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What has not been fully understood by those Members who are not as supportive of this Bill as I would wish is that it is as much about the messages that are sent out that these drugs will not be legal and that they are not safe as it is about the actual enforcement of the law. In many ways, to use the same logic, it is similar to the recent legislation on smoking in cars with children. Many critics of that legislation say that it is incredibly difficult to enforce, but it is as much about the public health messages that are sent out that that behaviour is no longer acceptable. That aspect of this Bill should not be misunderstood. It is as much about the message that is sent out that these products are no longer legal and they are not safe. That is what is important. Young people think that these substances are legitimate and safe simply because they can buy them on the high street. If only the supply side of these substances is to be tackled, it would be appropriate for there to be an obligation on the part of the Government to provide public education on the nature of these drugs.

Briefly, let me discuss the issue of medical research, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) mentioned. The current legal framework impedes legitimate research due to the requirement of a schedule 1 drug licence, which is very expensive. That type of licence also takes a considerable amount of time to set up, which undoubtedly deters scientists and manufacturers from getting involved. It also massively hikes up the price of the drugs, and simple market forces will dictate that other areas of research will be more profitable, and even possible.

Forty eight years after the prohibition of LSD, psychedelic drugs remain more legally restricted than heroin and cocaine, which are schedule 2, class A. That puts a stop to all research. I am concerned that the vague definition of psychoactive substances, with several common sense exemptions, will impede legitimate research. Would it not be a tragedy if the United Kingdom, one of the leading research nations in the world, avoided finding a cure for some awful psychiatric disorder due to our failure to include the appropriate exemptions for scientists?

I also want to raise the issue of stop and search. I wonder what would constitute reasonable suspicion for the possession of legal highs with intent to supply. Likewise, how is a police officer to identify the source of somebody’s ecstatic state? Is it from real ecstasy, or caused by an artificial substitute with similar psychoactive effects? Is the person to be taken into custody whilst a full chemical analysis is performed? Some clarity on these points will be needed in Committee.

Despite the unanswered questions, the Opposition will support the principles of the Bill. We committed to banning legal highs before the last election, and we maintain that commitment. The preponderance of evidence suggests that it will be effective in reducing the usage of psychoactive substances and we need only to look to the Republic of Ireland to see the effect it can have. That point was well made in the opening speeches and in contributions from other Members, but most powerfully by the hon. Member for Belfast East, who spoke about his experience visiting Dublin and seeing the difference that the law change has made south of the border. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of hospital admissions as a result of the use of the newly outlawed psychoactive substances, and the near elimination of the dodgy shops that sell them.

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I also think that a blanket ban is the only way to deal with the problem. As I mentioned earlier, the main issue we face with psychoactive substances is their legitimisation, whether their legality is real or merely purported. The nuance in the four-decade-old law controlling psychoactive substances is clearly insufficient for its modern purpose, and I think we all agree on that.

There are some who argue that the criminalisation of supply will simply move the trade to the unregulated black market, but I do not accept that. These substances are entirely unregulated already. There is no incentive for suppliers to attempt to subject their products to regulation for the very reason that it would alert the forensic early warning system to the presence of a new drug on the street, leading to an expedited prohibition.

We therefore lend our qualified support to the Bill. We recognise the need to control the production and supply of these substances, but we also recognise the need to educate young people on the real nature of such drugs. We want to improve the Bill. We will not oppose it tonight, as we support its aims and it is Labour party policy, but in Committee we will make serious amendments on some of the points we have raised tonight.

11.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): We have had an excellent debate this evening and I am grateful to all Members who have taken part. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who speaks for the official Opposition, gets it and I am grateful for her support. She pressed us on the issue of education and Public Health England is full square and centre in trying to achieve what we all want to see.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), in an outstanding speech, gave us his strong support, for which I am extremely grateful. He told the tragic story of a young female army cadet who lost her life to NPSs at a festival in his constituency and quite rightly said that the music industry should be more responsible. He told us that there were 16 head shops in Hampshire and mentioned the impact on homeless people, which we should not forget.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) spoke for the Scottish National party with an excellent speech. She said that she would not name individual NPS drugs and I support her in that. I prefer the term “lethal highs”, as I think it is more accurate. Of the 129 deaths in 2014, 62—nearly half—were in Scotland, so it is quite right that there is strong interest and support from the SNP Benches on these matters. She also told us the tragic story of a young woman about to go to medical school who then spent four decades in supported accommodation because of an hallucinogen, a type of NPS, that she had taken. I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who is a doctor and former Health Minister. He said that shops selling NPSs legitimatise them—I believe that he is right—and he will be aware of the important role of Public Health England and its equivalent in the devolved Administrations in the education piece, to which he rightly drew attention.

The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) made an important point about importation. The Bill tackles the trade in psychoactive substances,

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whatever form it takes, including importation. Removing importation for personal use from the measure would open significant loopholes. Someone could import substantial quantities claiming it was for personal use, making it impossible for the Border Force to look behind each and every importation to check whether it was for personal use or not. It must be able to seize or require that people forfeit all psychoactive substances at the border. The right hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, Lynne Featherstone, said:

“I will be working right up until the dissolution of Parliament to ensure we have done as much as we possibly can to pave the way for a general ban. This will mean the next government can act quickly to clamp down on this reckless trade.”

The right hon. Gentleman was a little vague about his manifesto. I have done a bit of research, and the Lib Dem manifesto said that the party would

“clamp down on those who produce and sell unregulated chemical highs”.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) told us about the amount of NPSs sold on York’s tourist-filled high street for as little as £7. He told us about a constituent who attempted suicide, and about the group, York against Legal Highs. I am grateful to him for drawing that group to our attention, and I commend it on the good work that it does in his constituency.

The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has indeed been consistent on this issue, and takes a fundamentally different view from the majority of speakers in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has pushed for action on this issue for many years. He is a practising criminal solicitor, so we should listen carefully to him. He said that the Bill would call time on head shops, and he is right about that. I thank him for his support.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has a proud record of standing up consistently and in a no-nonsense manner on this serious issue, and I thank him for his support. He drew our attention to the fact that it is younger groups of users who are being drawn to these terrible substances. I will not give publicity to the head shop that he mentioned in Worksop, but I can tell him that the Bill sounds its death knell. He is a strong supporter of central parts of the Bill, and he told us that ex-heroin users say that we need to act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), too, speaks from good, practical experience, because like me, he is a community first responder. I commend him on the practical action that he has taken. He told us about the problems that his police force experiences in tackling NPSs as a result of a lack of legislation—something the Bill will deal with. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris)—again, in a powerful speech—told us that her local hospital had admitted 78 people to accident and emergency for taking NPSs between April and August. She also told us that the police were having to educate children in years 7 and 8 in her local schools—further reason why we have to act.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) told us about a young man who died after several weeks and a number of operations after taking NPSs. The cost

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to the health service of the issue that we are discussing is huge. He, too, wanted more education, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice absolutely gets that, and we will make sure that it happens in the Bill.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) said that NPSs blight his historic city centre, and spoke about the fact that the ease of paying for NPSs by debit card sends an appalling message. He is absolutely right, and he told us that his constituents support the Bill. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), a distinguished former Lord Mayor of his city, has taken practical action at local authority level, and I commend him for doing so. I commend Lincoln and Lambeth—other local authorities that have acted in a similar manner. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the blanket ban. Interestingly, he told us that class A drug users in his constituency told him that they would not touch NPSs because they were far too dangerous which, again, should spur us to action.

Finally, I can tell the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) that we will continue to listen to the Home Affairs Committee. We have listened to it, we respect it greatly and we will continue to listen to it as the Bill goes into Committee.

I have spoken already of the 129 deaths in 2014. The number of substances has increased exponentially. There were 24 new substances in 2009, 41 in 2010, 49 in 2011, 74 in 2012, 81 in 2013, and in 2014 101 brand-new substances. The old method of trying to ban each individual substance has not worked, which is why the blanket ban approach must be taken. We should listen to the wise words of Professor Paul Hayes, former chief executive of the National Treatment Agency, who said in his evidence:

“Closing down the visible points of sale will tend to deter novice users and, just as importantly, will prevent the normalisation of NPS use which the presence of open sale promotes.”

Over a third of NPSs are bought from shops and it is estimated that there are 335 UK head shops, which is appalling.

As the Prisons Minister, I want to end by talking about the terrible impact of psychoactive substances in prisons. I saw a report last week from a prison where five prison officers had been sent to accident and emergency as a result of an NPS incident. Three of them had been bitten. No public servant should have to put up with such behaviour in the course of their duty. It is appalling. That is another extremely important reason why we need this Bill. Within prisons the harm is magnified. Officers and prisoners die or are badly injured, as I just described. Prisoners and their families are bullied, they get into debt and they are used as guinea pigs by other prisoners. There is a trail of human misery caused by new psychoactive substances in prisons. That is the reason, among all others, why we need the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords]:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 29 October 2015.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of the proceedings.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed. —(Margot James.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Legal Aid and Advice

That the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1414), dated 23 June 2015, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25 June, be approved.—(Margot James.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Local Government

That the draft Byelaws (Alternative Procedure) (England) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 21 July, be approved.—(Margot James.)

Question agreed to.

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Heathrow: Noise Mitigation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Margot James.)

11.12 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I applied for the debate this evening so that I could outline the adverse impact that recent changes to flight paths have had on my constituency. I also want to suggest a number of solutions that I believe should be introduced to mitigate the airplane noise impact for my constituents and the constituents of other right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies are close to Heathrow.

Last year NATS decided to consolidate flight paths to the north of my constituency, but failed to notify the communities affected, Heathrow airport or me. It took a year’s worth of complaints from local people for NATS finally to admit that it had made changes to the so-called Compton route. Its consolidation of the Compton route is supposedly for safety reasons, although in my opinion NATS has failed to fully explain its decision. I would like to know what the reasons are, and if they are not credible, the Compton route should revert to its former setting.

Late last week Heathrow published its analysis of flight path data over my constituency. It asserts that things are broadly the same as before and that my constituents and I are misled. However, by looking closely at the published data it is possible to deduce that Sandhurst and Crowthorne in my constituency have a higher concentration of low-flying aircraft. My constituents, such as Ms Claire Simpson who lives in Crowthorne and Ms Lisa Davison in Sandhurst, are apparently unable to hear themselves speak in their gardens, such is the deluge of low-flying aircraft. This is unacceptable around 15 miles from Heathrow, particularly for residents not previously affected.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I fully support my hon. Friend. There has been a major change. We now have a motorway in the sky with much lower planes flying far more persistently. All we ask is to go back to where we were before the trials.

Dr Lee: I totally agree with my right hon. Friend.

Heathrow is very forthcoming about the effect that the changes to the Compton route have had. Indeed, it would like to see the change reversed too. However, Heathrow failed to acknowledge that the changes to the Compton route have also pushed arrivals 1 km downwards to accommodate departures. These are having a huge noise impact, particularly when pilots are using limited thrust on take-off to save on fuel. If more thrust were used on take-off, aircraft would be at the highest point of their allocated altitude when over my constituency. I would appreciate the Minister’s suggestions as to how his Department could deliver this change.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I applaud my hon. Friend for securing this debate. The problem for Teddington Action Group is that despite the trials there are increasing flights on the route, they are more concentrated, they are flying lower, and there are louder aircraft—the A380s. Eleven minutes ago I got tweets saying that already tonight there is noise over Teddington. My concern is that regardless of the trials this cannot be mitigated and is already increasing.

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Dr Lee: I would argue that it can be mitigated—there are different things that I will come to—but I recognise that the frequency of flights has increased. The types of aircraft are important in terms of where they fly and how high they are in the sky.

Dealing with arrivals will require more action. I was surprised to learn through correspondence with the Minister that NATS prioritises noise mitigation only for flight path designs up to 4,000 feet. The Minister goes on to say in the next sentence of his letter that flight path designs up to 7,000 feet are being considered too. Which measure does he favour? Seven thousand feet would be better for my constituents.

To further deal with noise from arrivals, I would like to see a clear definition of the continuous descent approach that would require a greater adherence to the 3° path from 8,000 feet down and not just at 4,000 feet, when NATS at Heathrow takes over. This would raise the height of planes above my constituency.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s introducing this debate. My constituency is also significantly affected by noise from Heathrow. I welcome the opportunity to hear what happens in his constituency when flight paths are changed. Is he aware that in my constituency there can be no variation of landing paths because all planes are locked into the landing arrangements at Heathrow and for 70% of the time planes are flying over a built-up area all the way from Kew to the runway?

Dr Lee: Clearly, for the constituencies close to the airport, mitigating noise becomes difficult. The glide approach, with an aircraft using engines less, would be quieter, even in the hon. Lady’s constituency. Some changes can be made. I am realistic enough to know that the constituencies in close proximity to Heathrow will be impacted to some degree, but the impact could be less if we gave some consideration to these suggestions.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Connectivity is very important for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just for Heathrow but for Belfast—Aldergrove—and Londonderry. The importance of having these connections and the benefit to the economy is great. Let me say for the record that my party is fully committed to the expansion of Heathrow. Heathrow has revealed some methods that can go a long way towards addressing the issues of noise for people who live in the area. Perhaps we can hear some of the hon. Gentleman’s ideas on how to reduce the noise in these areas.

Dr Lee: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I will be passing through Belfast airport soon, and I shall be able to admire the country that he has the privilege to represent a part of.

As I said, I would like to see a clear definition of the continuous descent approach that would require a greater adherence to the 3° path from 8,000 feet down and not just at 4,000 feet, when NATS at Heathrow takes over. This would raise the height of planes above the constituency. Planes are noisiest when there is a faster level of negative vertical speed. Furthermore, I have concerns about arrivals that have not been stacked or that come out of the Ockham or Biggin stack at 8,000 feet and have to descend to about 4,000 feet for their final approach. If NATS were

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mandated to take noise mitigation seriously, that would become much less of an issue for residents on the ground.

Another area with scope for improvement is the way in which certain noisy aircraft are dealt with. Has the Department for Transport considered banning such aircraft from taking off and landing between 9.30 pm and 7.30 am? The retrofitting of noise-reducing devices to Airbus A320s is being actively encouraged by Heathrow, but about 20% of A320s operating at Heathrow have yet to have them installed. Will the Department issue guidance on this? One airline operating a few A320s without the retrofit can have a huge noise impact.

With old planes, as they get sold on and have a life of 30 years or more, a ban might be the only way to actually get them retired from service. That is particularly applicable to new, low-cost, long-haul carriers. In addition, aircraft manufacturers could do a great deal more: no manufacturer offers streamlining for its landing gears, for example. Manufacturers could also modify their advice for airlines on operating techniques to reduce noise, including additional use of speed brakes located on the upper side of aircraft, which, if used instead of flaps, would further reduce noise.

I very much hope that the Minister will be able to bring about a resolution to at least some of the problems I have outlined. It is quite easy, as Members can tell, to get bogged down in the detail of the issue, but the best solution most certainly involves a far more robust mandate for NATS or, perhaps, the Civil Aviation Authority.

I have long been a proponent of Heathrow expansion, primarily based on the economic benefits it would bring for my constituency of Bracknell and the Thames valley region, and on its wider implications for the UK’s long-term prosperity. Heathrow expansion offers the best prospects for stimulating the local economy by supporting and creating jobs. An expanded Heathrow would also play an important role in the continued economic success of the Thames valley, ensuring that it retained its position as a hub of innovation, productivity and prosperity.

I am determined, however, that current usage of Heathrow airport, and any future expansion, should not come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of local communities. In particular, when Heathrow is on easterly operations, some residents in the Thames valley can be blighted by aircraft noise for up to 19 hours a day. That has happened a lot recently.

Ruth Cadbury rose

Dr Lee: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will make progress.

As outlined earlier, the situation has been further exacerbated by the changes implemented by NATS, which narrowed the Compton departure route corridor, resulting in greater concentration of aircraft activity over densely populated areas in my constituency.

Over the past year, I have held regular meetings with Heathrow executives, held a public constituency meeting following NATS flight trials, and made representations to Heathrow Airport Ltd, NATS and the CAA. During this time, it has become clear to me that much more attention needs to be paid to the mitigation of noise and that a relevant body should be made statutorily

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responsible for its reduction. NATS, which controls the airspace around Heathrow, currently has no responsibility for mitigating aircraft noise that could affect hundreds of thousands of people.

As I have said, there are many issues at play, including old aircraft and poor piloting, but in the short term NATS could do the most to alleviate the issue, particularly around Heathrow, where it vectors the aircraft much too far from the airport, which subjects many more communities than necessary to excessive noise.

As I have outlined, there are solutions to mitigating noise around Heathrow. The Government should seriously consider them, as I believe that the UK’s future as a trading nation and tourist destination depends on our ability to meet the increasing demand for airport capacity. For the good of the country, we have to move forward and build the airport capacity that Britain needs. Over the coming years, I will continue to campaign on behalf of my constituency to ensure that Heathrow can increase its capacity. But rest assured that I will also campaign vigorously to mitigate the impact of excessive noise on my constituents’ lives.

11.24 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to participate briefly in it. Although Henley-on-Thames is a little further up the River Thames than his constituency, it is also very badly blighted by noise pollution from aircraft, particularly those on easterly operations, which appear to do the equivalent of a handbrake turn over Henley, with all the attendant noise that brings.

I invited Heathrow, NATS and others to a public meeting to look at this problem. They willingly attended it, for which I am very grateful to them. However, their solution was that everything depended on the air patterns—whether aircraft were on a westerly or easterly approach. I can understand the logic of that, but it does not answer the whole question.

The fact that the landing routes have changed is a big contributor to the difficulties my constituents face. It affects the whole of Henley. Emails from my constituents say that they are woken up early in the morning, particularly with the old 747s that are among the noisiest aircraft in the skies, and late at night. It is necessary to do something about that. I approve of what my hon. Friend has said about steepness of the descent. That would keep aircraft significantly higher as they come in to land over my constituency, which would be a major improvement. Something needs to be done about older aircraft, because when the big 747s come in they are powered in such a way—I do not know whether the pilots do it deliberately, but they certainly seem to—that it creates an enormous noise.

Like my hon. Friend, I am looking forward to the results of the inquiry into the future of Heathrow. We need the capacity and we need to build something there, but if we are going to do so, we must solve the mitigation problem first.

11.26 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I fully support my two hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and for Henley (John Howell). Like them, my constituency is newly blighted by the change in operating procedures.

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I beg the Minister to tell NATS that it must go back to the system it operated before the trials of about a year ago.

My constituents feel very misled. They were told there would be trials. The trials were unacceptable, and when we complained, we were told they had been cancelled. However, instead of going back to what we had before—people could live with that and had bought their houses on that basis—we have had a new concentrated motorway in the skies, with more, lower and noisier planes day after day, in a way that is completely unacceptable.

I expected to support the expansion of Heathrow, but I do not see how I can possibly do so unless the airport understands that this is a huge mistake, and unless it and NATS between them put it right and go back to how it was before. They want our trust and support, but they have to earn it. They have just shattered that trust very badly by how they have behaved, because not only have they made such a change, but they implied for quite a long time that there were no changes. They said it was all in the mind, that we were dreaming it, and that we were going out at six in the morning to look at the skies and realising, when we saw planes, how noisy they were. It is not like that: this is a fundamental change in what they are doing. It was not scripted, advertised or consulted on. It has damaged the lives of my constituents, who feel they are owed an apology and that things should be switched back, which might start to restore some trust with the local community.

So far, this is a disgrace, and we are looking to the Minister to put it right, because he, like my hon. Friends and me, needs public support. We have just got their votes in the general election, and they now expect us to do our job, which is to tell NATS that this is not acceptable and that it must do what it used to do.

11.29 pm

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I wish to put on record that, despite what my hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and for Henley (John Howell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) have said, such is the experience closer to Heathrow for Twickenham, Teddington and Hampton, I do not believe there can be mitigation, regardless of the new trials. It is only because of the Teddington action group that a report was produced on 15 October showing the trend even without the trials. The trend is about 83 dB for A380s. As my medical colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, will know, 57 dB causes medical problems. There is no mitigation for 83 dB. There cannot be mitigation when aircraft are flying at 1,413 feet. There is no mitigation when most of the noise pollution at a medically dangerous level is happening before 8 o’clock in the morning and after 8 o’clock at night. I am assured by my residents that it is happening right now.

I believe in the aircraft industry, but I am sorry to say that I do not believe in Heathrow or in the third runway. We must remember that the chief executive will not rule out a fourth runway or night flights. That is not acceptable. As talented as the Minister is, he cannot mitigate the effects for my constituents.

11.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this

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debate on the mitigation of noise around Heathrow airport. I thank other colleagues for their contributions and for the way in which they have described the problems that aircraft in the air cause for people on the ground.

I assure the House that the Government are acutely aware that noise is a major environmental concern around airports, and especially for the communities surrounding Heathrow. I remind the House that, as is set out in the aviation policy framework that was published in 2013, our overall policy is to limit and, when possible, reduce the number of people in the UK who are significantly affected by aircraft noise. That remains our overarching policy, and the aviation industry is fully aware of it.

Ruth Cadbury: Is the Minister aware that 300,000 people who are not currently overflown by flights into Heathrow will be affected severely if runway three goes ahead? The third of my constituency that is not currently overflown by landing paths into Heathrow will be directly underneath the new flightpaths. Those people did not know that they would be living in such a noisy environment when they bought their homes. Does the Minister agree that that is not fair and that runway three should not be imposed on those 300,000 people in London and beyond?

Mr Goodwill: May I reassure the hon. Lady that although the Airports Commission has made its report, the Government are yet to make a decision on it? We hope to do so by the end of the year.

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): I will spare the Minister a lecture from the perspective of those who live around Gatwick because I know that he is in an invidious position as he considers the Davies commission’s report. However, I want to put it on record that the concerns that have been expressed by my hon. Friends in this debate also apply to Gatwick airport.

Mr Goodwill: I am well aware that the vectoring trials at Gatwick, which involved performance-based navigation —the accurate navigation that is now available—provoked a lot of concerns similar to those regarding Heathrow that we have heard about. One of the problems seems to be that although the ability to fly aircraft more accurately limits the number of people who are affected, those who are affected often experience a greater incidence of aircraft. There is a debate to be had about whether we should fly accurately down navigation lanes and limit the number of people who are affected, or go back to the situation that we had in the past when, because aircraft could not navigate as accurately, the planes flying out of the airports were more dispersed and noise was spread around.

Dr Mathias: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Goodwill: I ought to make some progress as time is fairly limited and I want to answer some of the points that have been made in the debate.

In the case of Heathrow, the airport, the CAA, the airlines and NATS are aware that noise is a significant concern for the communities around the airport that needs to be acted on. Heathrow is taking steps to cut back and mitigate its noise impact. Under the European

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Union’s environmental noise directive, it is required to produce a noise action plan that sets out its intentions to mitigate noise.

The House will be interested to know that last year the airport published its “Blueprint for noise reduction”, setting out 10 practical steps that it is taking to mitigate noise in 2015. Earlier this year the airport also established the Heathrow community noise forum, which is made up of representatives from local authorities around Heathrow—including that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell—as well as representatives from NATS, British Airways, the Department for Transport and the CAA. One of its principal aims is to help to build trust with local communities—I know that that trust has been tested—by keeping them informed of developments, and seeking to improve the overall level of understanding about Heathrow’s operations and airspace. That good initiative by the airport will bring about real benefits.

Under powers set out in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, the Government set noise controls at Heathrow, including restrictions on the number of flights allowed during the night, and specified the routes that departing aircraft need to follow. The controls also cover minimum height levels and maximum noise limits that departing aircraft must adhere to at certain points near the airport. Communities can be affected by noise disturbance from either arriving or departing aircraft—or indeed both—but, as I will set out, it is more difficult to lay down limits for arrival aircraft.

The routes used by aircraft and the height at which they fly are significant factors that affect the noise experienced by people on the ground. The departure trials last year at Heathrow and Gatwick, and the public response to them, as indicated by the number of complaints received, clearly show that people notice changes in airspace use and—as my inbox would attest—are quick to make their feelings known.

The Government understand communities’ concerns and are considering how the airspace change process can be improved. The CAA is also aware of concerns about the airspace change process and is carrying out an independent review into whether that can be improved. I assure the House that those trials ended last year, and the information gained is vital to increase our knowledge for future airspace change driven by the CAA’s future airspace strategy.

Changes to the UK’s airspace structure are required, which we must accept while we are seeking to address the impact of such changes as much as practicable. Aviation is a success story, and the public like the opportunity that it affords for holidays or to meet family and friends living far away, as well as for business travel, which is vital for our economy. However, the basic structure of UK airspace was developed more than 40 years ago, since when there has been a dramatic increase in demand for flights. The future airspace strategy is critical to ensuring that the industry is efficient and able to minimise its overall environmental impact.

Ruth Cadbury: When considering the implications and impact of aviation on communities affected by noisy environments, will the Minister also consider the impact of sleep deprivation and that on children’s learning in schools when their classrooms are overflown every 60 to 90 seconds?

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Mr Goodwill: I am aware of the problems. Indeed, I visited two schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency with her predecessor and saw the problems at first hand. Although double glazing can help in winter, in summer windows need to be opened and children in the playground can be affected. I appreciate the impact that noise can have on people on the ground, and the Airports Commission report sets out a number of suggestions, including a ban on night flights.

We are discussing the noise of aircraft that arrive in the early hours, particularly the early flight from Hong Kong. It is all very well saying to people that aircraft are quieter than ever before, but the flight either wakes someone up or it does not, and if they are woken up, they stay awake. I understand that many people are sensitised to noise because of the length of time that they have been subjected to it.

The plan is to modernise UK airspace and to deliver our contribution to the European Commission’s single European sky by 2030. That ambitious plan is designed around the use of modern technology, including more precision-based navigation. This technology has the potential to bring about significant benefits: for the industry through greater efficiency, safety and resilience; for the environment through fewer emissions; and for passengers through quick journeys and fewer delays. The technology also gives the aviation industry an opportunity to deliver improvements to communities near airports. More precise navigation means that planes can be directed away from populated areas and can ascend quicker, which means less noise for people on the ground, but that can happen only with modernisation. Without that, none of the benefits will be possible. Of course, modernisation brings challenges too, which is why it is important that the Government listen to the concerns of communities so that they can share the benefits when possible. The CAA, NATS and the wider industry also need to listen to communities and to ensure that they can have a say in changes that will affect them.

As is set out in our aviation policy framework, the Government believe that in most circumstances it is desirable to concentrate aircraft along the fewest possible number of routes in the vicinity of airports, and that these routes should avoid densely populated areas as much as possible. However, the aviation policy framework

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goes on to add that in certain circumstances, such as when there is intensive use of certain routes, and following engagement with local communities, it may be appropriate to explore options for respite. Such engagement is crucial for delivering results that work for communities and the aviation industry.

I now turn to how Heathrow’s operations impact on the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell. I understand that he has already had communications with Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd about this matter. As he is no doubt aware, his constituency will be impacted by noise from both arriving and departing aircraft from Heathrow. I understand that noise from arrival aircraft is the primary concern for residents in his constituency.

For safety reasons, and to ensure safe separation between incoming flights, there are no set routes or heights for arrival aircraft before they join the final approach path. This can result in a large spread of arrival tracks, which can vary from day to day and are dependent on such issues as how busy the schedule is and wind direction. There are, however, techniques that can be deployed to mitigate some of the noise impacts. These include continuous descent approach, whereby aircraft adopt a steady angle of approach. This reduces the noise impact on residents living further away from the airport.

The Government want to maximise the benefits of a strong aviation sector. This is good for the economy and for bringing not only investment and employment to the UK, but wider benefits to society and individuals. However, the Government recognise that that needs to be balanced against the costs to the local environment that more flights bring, with noise being the prime example.

I once again thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate on such an important subject, which I know is close to his heart, as indeed it is for many of his constituents and residents living across the south-east.

11.42 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).