May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on a really excellent speech? It was a privilege to be here for the first maiden speech by a brightly coloured turbaned Sikh. I am looking forward to a number of maiden speeches today. In my own maiden speech two years ago, I said among other things that I looked forward to arguing for reform of our drug laws. There has been very little chance to do so since then, so I welcome the debate today. However, unfortunately, the Government’s new drug strategy is a massive missed opportunity.
We do not get a new strategy very often. There is always the hope that it might contain some radical thinking. This strategy, sadly, offers little that is new. It is more of the same approach that is not working, that has seen an increase in drug-related deaths in the UK and that sees the UK responsible for nearly a third of Europe’s drug deaths.
My friend Cara’s son is five tomorrow. It will be his third birthday without his father Jake, who died of a heroin overdose. Cara wants to legalise drugs to end the stigma around drug use and to end the unnecessary criminalisation of drug users that made it so hard for her family to deal with Jake’s addiction, and makes it more difficult for people to seek help with drug problems.
The day after tomorrow, Thursday, will be the fourth anniversary of the death of 15 year-old Martha Cockburn, who died after taking ecstasy that turned out to be 91% pure; as a result, she died of an accidental overdose. Martha’s mum, Anne-Marie, who I think is in the Public Gallery, now campaigns for the legalisation and regulation of ecstasy, among other drugs. Martha died because there was no controlling measures on the substance that killed her and no way for Martha to check the safety of the substance she was using. Martha was failed by our approach to drug policy.
Many people who have been touched by the loss of loved ones want a more measured debate and a more rational approach to drug policy. Fifty people a week are dying of drug-related deaths in the UK—50 Marthas and Jakes. Our first duty in this place has to be to try to keep people safe and we are failing. The biggest missed opportunity in this strategy is the fact that we have not even considered decriminalisation or legalisation of some drugs as a solution to the problem. We have heard a number of times about Portugal, which decriminalised the use of drugs in 2001. Its drug-induced death rate is five times lower than the EU average. It had 16 overdose deaths last year and there has been a massive reduction in HIV infections.
In an article last week on the publication of the strategy, the Home Secretary said:
“We owe it to future generations to work together for a society free of drugs.”
Talk of a society free of drugs is a dangerous fantasy. Humans have taken drugs for thousands of years and are not going to stop because the Home Secretary produces a new strategy. It is a dangerous fantasy because it diverts attention and resources from the real challenge, which is how we make drug taking safer, how we educate users, how we reduce the consumption of dangerous drugs, how we take control of the drug trade from the criminals who want to exploit vulnerable users, and how we stop criminalising thousands of people unnecessarily. Many people are being criminalised because they have a medical or psychological problem. We need to recognise the link between early childhood trauma, including abuse, and addiction in later life. It is a closer link than that between obesity and diabetes. Drug addiction is often a psychological or biological problem, and criminalising people who have those problems is not the answer. In other cases, we are criminalising people unnecessarily for using a relatively harm-free intoxicant.
The best example is cannabis. It is surely wrong that we criminalise people for using a substance less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol—a substance that the overwhelming majority of people find pleasant, relatively harm-free and even a rewarding experience to take. We have all-party parliamentary groups that extol the virtues of beer, wine and whisky, but when we talk about a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, we are not allowed to say that it can be a positive experience.
If we legalised and regulated cannabis, we would take it out of the hands of the dealers, and reduce the opportunities for them to tempt users into experimenting with more dangerous drugs. We would also regulate the product, so users know with confidence what they are getting, so people who are worried about high levels of THC do not have to take whatever they can get on the street. There is a bonus too: we would raise many millions of pounds for the Exchequer to spend, if that is what we desire, on drug education or the NHS.
Around the world, countries recognise that cannabis prohibition is failing, and many of them are regulating. Uruguay was the first to do so. Eight states in the US, representing 20% of the population, have now legalised and regulated. Next year, Canada should become the first G7 country to do it. It is time we did the same. My personal belief is that this is going to happen. It is inevitable that it is going to happen in this country; we just need to grasp the nettle and do it.
We desperately need to change the terms of the debate. We need more openness and honesty in discussion of drug policy, and we need to reduce the stigma around taking drugs so that families find it easier to discuss the problem and find help. We need to stop the pretence that everyone’s experience of illegal drugs is negative.
In my previous life, I worked as a DJ and an event manager in the music industry, so I spent a lot of time working and socialising in nightclubs, being around people who used recreational drugs. Many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of ecstasy pills are taken every week in the UK, and we cannot pretend in our public discourse that people who are taking drugs do it because it is a terrible, miserable experience; people will not believe us, and it will destroy the credibility of the message. We need an honest and rational debate around drug policy if users, especially young people, are going to take us seriously.
Most of all, we need to focus on policies that minimise harm and risk to users, and that requires looking at different approaches to harm reduction. That is where this strategy is disappointing. The Government have ignored the chance to do that by looking at interventions that can save lives—at drug consumption rooms for heroin users, at heroin prescribing, at pill testing—and we need a much stronger emphasis on educational solutions if people are caught breaking what is currently the law.
If I get caught speeding in my car, I am sent on a course to teach me to drive more carefully. Those courses have a high success rate. If I am driving a speeding car, I have the potential to do much more harm to society than if I am caught in possession of cannabis or ecstasy for personal use, but the latter is a criminal offence, with the potential for a damaging criminal record, and the former a civil offence. There is no reason not to treat drug possession for personal use in the same way.
I want to say a few brief words about medicinal cannabis. Although it is not really covered in this strategy, we looked at it last year in the all-party group for drug policy reform. There is overwhelming evidence that cannabis is a useful treatment for a range of conditions. In some cases, people find relief in cannabis, having exhausted treatments that have failed. Some people may have seen an article in the Daily Mail recently that asked whether a woman should be criminalised for medicating with cannabis. When even the Daily Mail accepts that there is an argument for change, that surely illustrates how far behind public opinion the House is on the issue. We should follow many countries, as well as half the states in the USA, and legalise cannabis for medicinal use.
Finally, I want to mention resourcing. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, passing responsibility for drug treatment to local authorities was a good idea in practice. However, there is a huge problem for local authorities that commission addiction services because of the massive cuts to local authority budgets.
Some drugs are dangerous, and we need to get drugs under control, but I do not want those words to be misinterpreted; I do not mean that we need to ban the use of drugs. The production, retail and use of some drugs needs to be controlled, so people can use drugs safely if they choose to do so. Prohibition is not working in the UK or around the world. We need a new approach. We need to treat addiction as a health issue. We need to stop criminalising people unnecessarily. We need to begin considering proper, evidence-based strategies. We certainly need to move towards legalising cannabis, and I believe that that is only a matter of time. We also need to look seriously at the decriminalisation of other drugs.
I have spoken today not because I think I am going to secure a massive change in the Government’s drug policy; indeed, I do not expect any quick progress on drug policy. I just think we need to start reframing the debate. There are a limited number of us who are prepared to speak up on this issue at present, but I hope the numbers will gradually increase, because we need a serious debate on this issue, not more of the same approach, which has failed.
It’s time for an honest & rational debate on drug policy: My speech on the Government's Drug Strategy
May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on a really excellent speech? It was a privilege to be here for the first maiden speech by...
Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, met with older people from across the country at an event in Parliament organised by the charity Age UK.
The Age Champions event was the charity’s annual summer reception and highlighted the challenges of an ageing population and opportunities in later life.
MPs heard how they can tackle issues affecting older people in south Manchester and across the country, including loneliness and isolation, social care and the importance of a decent income.
Speaking at the event, Jeff said: “Every older person has the right to live with dignity and enjoy a fulfilling life. The social care crisis and the stripping away of community care such as befriending services make that more difficult for most older people.
I look forward to working with Age UK and others to make sure older people are at the top of this Government’s agenda”
Age UK Chief Executive, Tom Wright CBE, said: “I am delighted to say that we now have over 130 Age Champion MPs from all sides of the House and I hope that many others will want to join as this Parliament proceeds”
“Issues like the fragility of our social care system and the chronic loneliness that affects too many are not going away and our older population badly needs us to find solutions for them”.
Throughout the event MPs learned more about how Age UK can help them to improve the lives of older people in their constituencies and make the most of their role as an 'Age Champion'.
For more information about your local Age UK and Age UK's work more generally please visit www.ageuk.org.uk
Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, met with older people from across the country at an event in Parliament organised by the charity Age UK. The Age Champions event...
Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith attended a Carers Week speednetworking event with carers and charities in Westminster, pledging his support to unpaid carers locally.
The event was in support of the recent Carers Week, to celebrate and recognise the vital contribution made by the 6.5 million people across the UK who currently provide unpaid care for a disabled, ill or older family member or friend.
Jeff said: “I was proud to represent my constituents today at the Carers Week event and I pledge to support the 8,300 carers in Manchester Withington throughout this Parliament.
Unpaid carers make a huge contribution to our society, providing vital and often hidden support to friends and family members, and it is right that we value them and ensure they have the right support at the right time.
I look forward to working with the Carers Week charities, and, with unpaid carers, locally, to make a difference to their lives.”
Carers Week 2017 brings together 10 charities including Carers UK, Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. For further information visit www.carersweek.org
Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith attended a Carers Week speednetworking event with carers and charities in Westminster, pledging his support to unpaid carers locally. The event was in support...
Responding to news reports that 372 mental health patients were sent out-of-area in 2016/17, Jeff said:
"This postcode lottery for mental health care is unacceptable. In Manchester alone, 372 adults were sent out-of area for emergency treatment in 2016/17, isolating them from their family and ultimately making their recovery harder.
This is a direct result of mental health budgets being used to plug black holes elsewhere in our NHS.
We’ve heard a lot of warm words on mental health from Theresa May, but it’s time we saw improvements on the ground to match."
Responding to news reports that 372 mental health patients were sent out-of-area in 2016/17, Jeff said: "This postcode lottery for mental health care is unacceptable. In Manchester alone, 372 adults...
To mark Armed Forces Day on 24th June Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, has called on the Government to give our Armed Forces a better deal.
Jeff said - “I am delighted to support our Forces, serving personnel, and Veterans and their families on Armed Forces Day.
It’s great that we have a day that recognises the hard work and bravery of the forces community but of course we need to be supporting them year round.
The Government must ensure that our Armed Forces get more support on pay, welfare, housing and services.
Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence said “Our servicemen and women stand up for us every day, it’s especially important that we stand up for them on Armed Forces Day.
“Satisfaction with Service life has dropped every year since 2009 and the number of personnel leaving the Forces is worryingly high. It’s time the Tories show our personnel they are valued and invest in them. The Government needs to get a grip of this problem and take action now.”
To mark Armed Forces Day on 24th June Jeff Smith, MP for Manchester Withington, has called on the Government to give our Armed Forces a better deal. Jeff said -...
Today we saw a weak Prime Minister deliver a Queen’s speech that failed to respond to the crisis faced by our public services.
The speech was most notable for what was missing; plans for Grammar Schools scrapped, repeal of foxhunting ban shelved, state visit for Donald Trump missing, "dementia tax" reduced to a consultation and no changes to the free school meals system.
These are welcome omissions, but the Prime Minister should have replaced the worst aspects of the Tory manifesto with a positive vision about investment in our public services.
Instead, she reiterated her support for a school Funding Formula that will see schools in our constituency lose £620 per pupil. There was no announcement on the large-scale investment that our social care system so clearly needs. We heard more warm words on mental health, but the commitment to reform the outdated Mental Health Act has been dropped.
The Prime Minister put her party before the country again today by giving a Queen’s Speech written to appease a divided Conservative Party and their partners in the DUP.
Our country needs an ambitious plan for our public services that sees our schools, hospitals and police forces properly funded. That what my Labour colleagues and I will be pushing for in the months ahead.
"A weak Prime Minister failing to respond to the crisis facing our public services" - My view on the Queen's Speech
Today we saw a weak Prime Minister deliver a Queen’s speech that failed to respond to the crisis faced by our public services. The speech was most notable for what...
Over the weekend, events took place across the country to remember the life of Jo Cox and celebrate everything that we have in common as part of the national Great Get Together weekend.
On Saturday Withington Baths hosted a very successful "age friendly" get together and Friends of Ladybarn Park held their family fun day. On Sunday, as part of a community lunch event Jeff helped unveil a beautiful artwork banner at Chorlton Central Church containing Jo’s words “we have more in common than that which divides us”.
Jeff said: “It was fantastic to see Jo’s life being celebrated in such a positive way by our community in south Manchester.
It has been a difficult few weeks for our city but seeing all parts of our diverse community coming together on a sunny Manchester afternoon shows that we will never be divided. Thanks so much to everyone involved.”
Over the weekend, events took place across the country to remember the life of Jo Cox and celebrate everything that we have in common as part of the national Great...
Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith marked National Clean Air Day by calling on the Government to bring forward a credible plan to tackle the air quality crisis in the UK.
Poor air quality is linked to 40,000 early deaths per year in the UK and has proven links to lung disease, asthma & other respiratory problems.
In response to the crisis the Government has produced three Air Quality Plans, with the first two being rejected by the High Court (See Jeff's question to the Prime Minister above) and environmental NGO Client Earth currently in the process of suing the Government over the third.
Commenting on National Clean Air Day, Jeff said: “Time and time again the Government has failed to take the problem of air pollution seriously.
On National Clean Air Day, when people are taking individual steps to reduce their own impact on the air we breathe, the Government should show that it is willing to act on behalf of the public’s health.
That means introducing a national network of Clean Air Zones across the country which prevents the most polluting cars from entering our city centres and looking seriously at a diesel car scrappage scheme to get older, high-emission vehicles off our streets.
After two High Court losses in two years and another legal case on the horizon, there is now no hiding place for the Government on the issue of poor air quality.”
Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith marked National Clean Air Day by calling on the Government to bring forward a credible plan to tackle the air quality crisis in the UK....
This weekend people across the country will come together for a series of neighbourhood celebrations called the Great Get Together.
The Great Get Together is inspired by Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen who was killed in June last year, with the aim of celebrating what we have in common and bringing communities closer together.
There’ll be three events across the constituency this weekend, the details are:
Saturday 17th June 1pm – 4pm: Friends of Ladybarn Park Community Fun Day & Fun Walk
Ladybarn Park, Parrs Wood Road/Mauldeth Road, M20 4XA
Saturday 17th June 1pm – 4pm: Love Withington Baths Great Get Together
Withington Baths, 30 Burton Road, M20 3EB.
Details can be found here.
Sunday 18th June Midday – 15:00: Chorlton Central Church banner unveiling
Chorlton Central Church, Barlow Moor Road, M21 8DF
There’ll be a picnic from midday onwards followed by the unveiling of a banner designed by local people to mark the day.
Commenting on the event Jeff said: “Jo famously said in her maiden speech that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’ and the Great Get Together shows us that she was right.
Whether it’s to remember my friend and colleague Jo, to meet people for the first time who live round the corner, or to raise money for a local charity, get involved in the Great Get Together this weekend.”
This weekend people across the country will come together for a series of neighbourhood celebrations called the Great Get Together. The Great Get Together is inspired by Jo Cox, the...