My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no immediate plans to meet Scottish Executive Ministers to discuss the effect in Scotland of classification of drugs. That policy matter is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the UK now has the second highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe? The problem is particularly acute in Scotland, where the death-rate average for the past five years is 624. Given that recent evidence from Scotland shows beyond any doubt that cannabis can cause brain damage and can lead to experimentation with harder drugs, has the time not come for it to be reclassified? What is his view on that and what recommendations will he make that might help to save Scottish youngsters from misery and drug affliction?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that drug misuse is a terrible blight that affects all too many communities, both in Scotland and elsewhere. I commend him on the work that he has done in raising the issue. He will know, however, that the Government’s position on the declassification of cannabis was informed by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The position was reaffirmed in January 2006, after further advice from the council. It recommended that cannabis should remain a class C drug, but that an information campaign was needed to highlight the mental health dangers and clarify that cannabis remains illegal. The Home Secretary has accepted that recommendation and has acted on it.
Does not the confusion surrounding the classification of cannabis highlight the fact that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 needs a major overhaul? In this House we revisit road traffic legislation on average every 10 years, but we have had no major drugs legislation since 1971? Will the Minister impress on the Home Secretary the fact that the time has come to look at drugs misuse as a whole?
The hon. Gentleman highlights the fact that, as I said, this matter is a policy responsibility of the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly capable of making those representations strongly by himself. It is important that we clarify that cannabis still remains illegal and that in my view, the view of the Government and the view of more and more informed commentators, it is still a very dangerous substance indeed. The Government are clear that that is a message that we all have to get across.