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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the report issue by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse. Did he read also the letter in Monday's Times from a consultant psychiatrist, Stephanie Sadler, who said that the difficulty faced by psychiatrists throughout the country is managing the results of psychosis and the irrational behaviour caused by cannabis use? Does he agree that, in the face of such evidence, any relaxation in the law relating to cannabis would be utter folly?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I did not read that piece of correspondence, although I am familiar with the information contained in it. This morning, on opening my local daily newspaper, I read the headline:
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a distinction to be drawn between decriminalising cannabis across the board and permitting its use on medical grounds, particularly for MS sufferers? Would the Government be prepared to consider the latter, even if they are not yet ready to consider the former?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there is an important distinction to be made. For that reason, the Government have authorised clinical trials. My understanding is that one of the companies involved in the trials, GW Pharmaceuticals, envisages that if its trials are successful a licence application for the medical use of a cannabis derivative could be made as early as late 2002. So we do draw that distinction. We understand that there may well be some medical benefits. But our approach must be science led. That is the way forward in this matter, so that the greatest benefit can be achieved from any potential medical use of cannabis.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation; chairman of the Addiction Recovery Foundation; and a board member of the Mentor Foundation, which I believe is the largest international drug prevention organisation in the world, an organisation which is non-governmental; and vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs Misuse. Is the Minister aware that, although cannabis is an addictive and dangerous drug, it is not all that addictive and not all that dangerous? It ranks rather low in the list of dangerous things in this world.
Does the Minister realise that most people in this country are now aware of one thing--which I hope this Government and, indeed, my noble friends on this Front Bench are aware of--namely, that whether or not we legalise cannabis, the reality is that policies of this Government and of the previous government and those pursued in the past, concentrating, as they have, on dealing with what is, as the noble Lord said, a health and social problem through the criminal justice system, have produced no results at all and have led to a massive increase in drug use? That does not appear in any way at all to be to the advantage of the voters who put this and previous governments in place.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his important contribution. However, it would be a foolish government--would it not?--who ignored the health impact of a drug like cannabis. That is why we have a science-based approach and why we believe it is absolutely right to advise, warn and inform people of the potential health risks. Yes, the noble Lord is right to say that it may well be a drug that is less addictive than other drugs; nonetheless, it is addictive. We need to warn people of that risk.
Lord McNally: My Lords, before the Minister cites Harold Wilson's belief that Royal Commissions take minutes and sit for years, does he not consider that if successive governments had followed the Liberal Democrats in calling for a Royal Commission almost a decade ago we might have had the basis for a considered discussion? It really is sad when we are apparently still making policy on the basis of the Brighton Evening Argus rather than on considered studies of the question. Even at this late stage, I think the Government should consider setting up a Royal Commission instead of listening to confessional politics from the Conservative Front Bench or reading articles in the Brighton Evening Argus.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have to defend the Brighton Evening Argus. It is my evening newspaper; and a jolly fine one too! The noble Lord is right to say that we should perhaps keep clear of the confessional approach and making policy on the hoof; that is not at all wise. However, the Government do not have any plans to set up a Royal Commission on the matter. As I said, we believe that this debate should be science led. That is how we intend to proceed, and that is certainly how we shall deal with some of the medical issues involved. We also have important institutions like the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which has done a splendid job in this regard. We believe that we should listen to its advice and keep such matters carefully under review, as, indeed, we do with all our policies.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the Minister recall, as the Liberal Democrat Front Bench evidently does not, that this matter was looked into by the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships' House? The committee concluded that the harmful effects were as stated by the Minister and that the recreational use of cannabis should continue to be controlled. The fact that cannabinoids might prove to have value in the therapeutic field does not mean that that should affect decisions on the so-called "recreational use" of drugs. After all, there are many medicines that are extremely dangerous when taken by the wrong people or in the wrong circumstances.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, the steering group was established on the basis of the decision of the House on 27th July, following the debate on the sixth report of the Offices Committee. The steering group will supervise a review of the management structure, the structure for taking decisions about the services of the House and other domestic matters, including the impact on the domestic committee structure.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for his Answer, but that is not what he said in his Written Answer. Leaving aside the fact that we are talking about a Written Answer given on the first day back from the Recess to a planted Question, which gives the House no opportunity to consider the decision, will the noble Lord accept that what was said and what was carried by a resolution of your Lordships' House mentioned nothing about the appointment of a consultant? Why did the noble Lord get it wrong in his Written Answer, in which he said that the committee would,
The other piece of comfort that I hope I can bring to the noble Lord is that I did not get it wrong. The decision of the 27th July, as a result of the Motion before the House on that day, was as follows: that there should be review of the management structure and the structure for taking decisions about the services of the House and other domestic matters, including the impact on the domestic committee structure; and that the review should take place under the supervision of a small steering group composed of Members of the House.
That was a decision taken by your Lordships. Noble Lords will have noted that, in accepting a modified version of the Motion before the House on that day, the decision included the words "under the supervision". Those words are an indication that the steering group would act, if it chose to do so, with assistance. Therefore, I can say quite clearly that the assumption was that a management consultant would be considered for appointment.
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