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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall speak for just one minute—which may come as a relief to the Minister, who I know is anxious to wind up the debate.

First, I too have received many letters from families throughout the country who speak with first-hand experience of the damage done to their children and other members of their families. Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, is a highly respected and esteemed Member of this place. She is a foremost authority on brain research in this country, working in many of our main universities. When a lady of that calibre tells us that cannabis is harmful and dangerous and that the order should not be supported, I believe that we should listen to her.

Thirdly, I refer to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, who lives among a community where this is a very real issue and speaks with first-hand experience. Her speech was extremely moving.

I should also like to support Kate Hoey. The Minister said that one reason for reclassification was to put an end to confusion. However, the confusion was caused by the Home Secretary himself who initiated pilot schemes in some areas, including London. Kate Hoey, who lives in one of those pilot areas, has talked of the deep distress being experienced by that community.

Those are powerful advocates for saying that the Government should think seriously about withdrawing the amendment. I support my noble friend Lord Hodgson this evening, but I and so many other Members of this House have not agreed to vote against the order.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I will not make the long speech that I prepared earlier. However, I have a new point that I should like to raise with my noble friend the Minister. She said that the

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Government do not accept that a high level of cannabis use is inevitable. The Government argue that they want to have an impact on usage through advertising and education. May I suggest that they, and perhaps noble Lords too, should have a look at the Internet? They could go to the Google search engine and type in "cannabis". I think they will be amazed to see there that 730,000 websites deal with cannabis. The first of the websites, "cannabis.com", tells you everything you need to know about cannabis: how you can get hold of it; what is in their shop; what is in their chatroom; instructions on how to grow cannabis; information about all the different types of cannabis available; on and on it goes. It ends up by giving the price per gram or price per ounce, available through the post, changed on a monthly basis according to the market. That is the first of 730,000 such websites.

Going through the websites at random, you will see that the vast majority of them are in the same business. They are the dealers working on an international basis. It is available there through the post. I ask the Minister what the Government are doing about that. Are any attempts being made on an international basis, as with paedophiles, to tackle not only the sale and promotion of cannabis but access to information through the Internet on how to purchase crack cocaine and heroin? Those drugs figure similarly on other websites.

Young people widely use both mobile telephones and the Internet. Those are the ways in which life is changing so quickly for them. They can be approached in a quite different way from anything that we have seen previously. I should like to know, as this has not been mentioned either in the debate in the other place or here, what the Government and the police intend to do about that.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, we have heard an awful lot about an awful lot of experts in the course of this debate. I am not an expert on drugs. However, I have been chairman of a leading provider of day care for drug addicts in the City of Westminster for 10 years, chairman of the Addiction Recovery Foundation for 16 years, vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Group on Drug Misuse for 12 years, and I have probably taken rather more drugs than most of the other Members of your Lordships' House. So I am beginning to learn a little bit.

I have heard from all sides of the House confusion and from all sides of the House concern. Maybe we should try to step back for a minute and look to see if those two things come together. I have not heard one noble Lord on either side of this argument or any side of the House say that taking drugs is a good thing. From all sides of the House, noble Lord after noble Lord has risen and given us personal anecdote and expert view or general view about the dangers of drugs and in particular the danger of cannabis. All those noble Lords are entirely correct. Cannabis is a deeply undesirable drug. It is addictive. It is harmful. It causes problems to physical health. It causes all the problems described by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and many other noble Lords. However, in the general scheme of things, it is not half

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as dangerous as a lot of other things in our society. So we need to find a bit of balance there. However, everyone thinks that it is dangerous. Everyone would like to find a solution to the problem.

The other sentiment that we have heard on all sides of the House is that if we liberalise, legalise or somehow reduce the classification it will lead to a massive increase. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said that we should not go down this route unless there was proof that liberalisation does not lead to an increase in use. There is a certain amount of logic in what the noble Lady was saying, and of course that proof does not exist. However, I will tell your Lordships what proof does exist. Under the current regime, whether we reclassify or whether we do not, we will undoubtedly see an increase in use, next week and the week after, and the year after, as we have year on year for the past 30 years as we have tightened the rules and regulations and laws and increased the sentences and deployed more police and spent more money on the courts. That is costing us between 12 billion and 18 billion a year. That is the price of having our drugs policy centred around the Misuse of Drugs Act. We should bear that in mind.

Noble Lord after noble Lord has talked about the message that we shall send out today if we lower the classification, or if we maintain it, or if we do anything else with it. My noble friend Lord Bell knows an awful lot about sending out messages—much more than I do—but I do know one thing: not one single person under the age of 20, certainly not your 10 or 12 year-old in Glasgow, will give a brass farthing whether a drug is classed as B, C, D or Z. Indeed, they will not know or care.

My noble friend Lady Blatch rightly talked about Brixton and what had happened there with the experiments that the Home Secretary conducted. I lived in Brixton before that. Brixton has been full to the gunnels with drug dealers for 15 years. The police have walked up one pavement and the dealers have walked down the other. This reclassification will not make a blind bit of difference to that, and anyone who thinks that it will is living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. That is not the way the world works. As virtually every single speaker has said, the reality is that drugs, whether cannabis or heroin, constitute a very serious health problem, although heroin is clearly a great deal more serious than cannabis. However, cannabis constitutes a health problem. The way you deal with health problems is with healthcare, not through the criminal justice system, because that does not work. You can keep the classification at class B or at class C, or you can make it class Z, it will not make a blind bit of difference.

The order before us this evening is a complete and utter irrelevance. I suspect what happened was that the Home Secretary wanted to move in the right direction he was advised to move in, which was to try to get out of this criminal justice nightmare in which we currently live, but that the weight that descended on the back of his neck from his own Back-Benchers and, indeed, from Members of my own party, made him chicken out, so while lowering the classification with one hand

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he raises the penalties with another, which is a completely pointless act if ever I heard of one, but that is where we have got to.

As someone who has been involved in this subject and, I believe, spoken in every debate in this House concerning drugs in the 15 or 16 years I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, I normally come in with a vague idea of what I shall do, what I shall say and how I shall vote. However, I came into this debate this evening with a blank piece of paper—luckily I have not written too much on it—without the slightest idea of what the order would achieve. Having listened very, very carefully and made masses and masses of notes, I am now completely convinced that I still do not have a clue what it will achieve, except that I am pretty certain that it will achieve absolutely nothing.

But what I have heard from all quarters of the House—which is very unusual in your Lordships' House on a difficult issue such as this—is that the House too is completely confused and was not swayed by the noble Baroness's very careful and, as always, clearly put argument. I understood her argument but it did not sway me. It did not convince me that the order was anything except completely pointless.

I listened very carefully to the amendment of my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench. He tried to mitigate a shambles with a minor shambles. We shall end up with an even bigger shambles. The best solution this evening would be for the Minister to do what wonderful, clever and talented noble Lords and Ministers do on occasion and say, "I think that we have got this wrong. I should like to take it away and think again".

Your Lordships have the right, the power and the privilege to ask the Government to think again. We all want to achieve the same thing—reduction in drug use and the protection of young people. Everyone on all sides of the House is agreed on that but not one single speaker knows exactly how we should achieve it. I do not think that the Minister convinced us that she knows either. I for one would be much happier if I did not have to vote one way or the other, and if the Government very sensibly took the measure away.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I regret to tell the noble Lord that I do not think that I shall be able to fulfil his request.

This has been a really extraordinary debate. In many ways, it shows the utility of your Lordships' House. It has been wide-ranging, impassioned and, almost without exception, extraordinarily well informed. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is right when he says that we are all of one mind. We all agree that drugs are pernicious. We would all like to see them expunged and the young people in particular of our country released from their grip. Many people around the House have expressed different views on how we do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, says that the effort that the Government are making is completely and utterly irrelevant, and that my right honourable friend

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the Home Secretary has chickened out. I want to say how wholeheartedly I disagree on that. The order is not irrelevant. One had only to listen to the pain that was obvious in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the passion of my noble friend Lady Howells to know that it was not irrelevant, but extraordinarily important.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, says that the Government are muddled, and that we are pointing in two directions. We are not. This is not a simple issue on which one can grasp from the air a simple solution and say, "That is it". If it were, we would have grasped that solution long before now. The Government are trying to do quite a difficult, brave and important thing. We acknowledge that cannabis is a harmful drug. Nothing that I said in opening the debate detracted from that. A number of noble Lords seemed to suggest that I had in some way equivocated. I did not. It is a drug that can have detrimental effects, particularly on those who have a vulnerability in relation to mental illness. It is not a drug that we believe should be legalised.

However, we have to face the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves as a community. Cannabis is widely used. There is a challenge for us in terms of what we do to release young people from that vice, as it is they in the main who are entrapped by it. There is an old adage that one can hate the sin but love the sinner. We seek to differentiate between the way in which we will treat the user of cannabis and its purveyor, provider or supplier. That is why we remain rigid in our opposition to those who sell the drugs, abuse our young people and derive profit from it. We are not ashamed to say that we will not move one jot in terms of the 14 years that should follow such people.

That does not make us inconsistent. In the steps that we are taking in the Criminal Justice Bill and other Bills that we have been privileged to discuss in this House, we seek to make a very clear distinction by the way in which we treat those who abuse drugs, so that treatment is available. That is a very important point.

I shall try, as briefly and quickly as I can, to deal with some points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has been accused of being timid. I saw no timidity in his discourse. He referred to Professor Edwards as a member of the advisory council—of course, he is a former member—and to the ever-increasing body of research. That research has been taken into account. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, mentioned the increase in potency and the higher strength cannabis, which has in fact been on the market since the 1990s. Those issues did prey on our minds and we considered them well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, gave us qualified support, because she accuses the Government of timidity. She said that we should go further and, in effect, legalise cannabis. My response is: "No. We think that we have gone far enough".

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The noble Baroness asked why there is a presumption for arrest. There is not. The presumption is against arrest. It is expected that in most cases a warning will be sufficient, together with confiscation of the drug. However, there are certain circumstances where arrest will be appropriate, as I outlined in my opening remarks. The increase in penalties for trafficking maintains our position in relation to the 14-year sentence.

I should respond next to the speech of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. She asked about those who need cannabis for medicinal purposes. My right honourable friend has made clear that he is willing to amend the misuse of drugs legislation as necessary to allow the prescribing of a cannabis-based medicine as a form of pain relief. The Home Office granted a licence to GW Pharmaceuticals, who have conducted trials and have developed a cannabis-based medicine designed to relieve chronic nerve pain. The company is seeking marketing approval for the product from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. That is a process through which all new medicines have to go in order to protect public health. The Multiple Sclerosis Society supports that approach. Therefore, it is a matter that we are trying to address.

One of the most powerful speeches was made by my noble friend Baroness Howells. I understand each and every issue that she raised. However, if I may respectfully say so, many of her points were answered in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. My noble friend raised some difficult issues and I shall answer her questions directly. She asked if cannabis is harmless. We do not say that it is. She then asked whether downgrading cannabis stops people from taking harder drugs. We have heard an answer to that. In response to the question whether relaxing the law on cannabis would free police to deal with more drugs, I draw my noble friend's attention to the crumbs of comfort that have been drawn from the Lambeth experiment. There has been a 10 per cent increase in arrests for class A drugs-dealing. In the 11 months to May 2002, 224 arrests were made, compared to 204 in the 12 months to June 2001. That was a result of greater police activity against dealers. In a survey of the people of Lambeth, 83 per cent of residents supported the scheme. Some supported it on condition that the police spend more time on serious crimes. We can therefore conclude from the surveys that they believed that the scheme was right.

However, I of course acknowledge my noble friend's remarks about the mothers of boys. I also acknowledge, as was indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Massam, that I have a personal reason for empathising with those who have those concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, mentioned the Connexions leaflet. I should make it clear that its contents were not approved by the Government and, as the noble Lord said, the leaflets have been withdrawn. However, there is a job for us to do in educating our young people and giving them the skills

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and the knowledge they need to make informed choices. That is a campaign in which we intend to engage with vigour. Children need to hear that drugs are dangerous. They may vary in their danger, but none of them is conducive to good health. As many people have said, we need to look at the health effects. Cannabis has addictive properties. They are not as high as class A. Cannabis does not kill through overdose; it does not cause social and personal safety problems to the same extent; but we do not for a moment suggest that the effects are not aberrant, because they are.

As a number of noble Lords have said, the evidence about schizophrenia is inconclusive. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, says that the Government have been too timorous and that we should go further. I hope that the answers I have given to other noble Lords he will take as answers to his queries.

We are including all cannabis in the reclassification, including class C. It was a joy but also a pain to hear the pithy comments of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, whom I always enjoy, even when the barbs are directed towards me. I say to the noble Lord that the reclassification to class C is not a mistake. It enables us to do something which could be creative in responding to the needs many have called for. I welcome and thank my noble friend Lord Rea for his support drawn from his experience as a GP. That is valuable evidence indeed.

In answer to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the oil will be included in the reclassification as C. The medical evidence indicates that that is an appropriate move. I of course hear what my noble friend Lord Mackenzie said about cannabis and driving. Everything that we do to limit the use of cannabis will, we hope, impinge on those issues and scientists are seeking to develop scientific means of establishing whether a person is impaired. Cannabis stays in the bloodstream for as long as 28 days—long after it ceases to impair performance.

Other organisations have supported what the Government have tried to do. They include the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Metropolitan Police Service; Turning Point; AdAction; DrugScope; the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report of 2002; the Police Federation; and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. None of them is irresponsible. All of them are committed to looking at the problem and trying to see whether they can help.

We have come on a long and tortuous journey. It has been difficult, but we believe that we have reached an honourable and good compromise. There is much for us to do. We will of course rely on those of good will to help us. We can, at the same time, move the broader drugs agenda squarely on to the menace of class A drugs. These are the drugs which can kill; which can insidiously destroy entire communities. We are now starting to make an impact in our strategy to reduce class A drug misuse and the effects of that.

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The Government are investing unprecedented levels of funds into drug treatment, education and enforcing the law. On education, we are targeting action under the Positive Futures programme to prevent the most vulnerable young people from getting involved in drugs. We are using sport and art to develop their skills to help themselves resist drugs and re-enter education and training. Positive Futures initiatives have been set up in 104 areas and 16,000 vulnerable young people are already receiving support under the scheme.

Connexions partnerships aim to provide teenagers with access to the support they need to take part effectively in learning and make a successful transition to adulthood. In some cases, Connexions will identify and refer young people with drug problems to specialist support. There are no easy solutions, but many of us have seen what young people can achieve and the wonders that they can perform when we help them out of the mire into which drugs have taken them. This Government believe that they have the right strategy, based on a realistic approach, to make a real and sustained impact on the drugs problem and to deliver substantial improvements. I invite your Lordships to endorse what the Government are trying to do—and trying to do bravely and correctly.


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