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Legal Highs

Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

New psychoactive substances can present a significant risk to public health, and people should not assume that they are either legal or safe to consume. We are forensically monitoring the emergence of new drugs in the United Kingdom, and have banned many substances that have been proved to be harmful.

I thank the Minister for his reply, and for the recent banning of khat, but what can be done about other legal highs which are being sold to young people in Cheshire? The police tell me that the moment the content of one packet is banned, a very similar substance, or the same one, is resold in a different wrapper.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the interest that she takes in this important issue in her constituency. It is important for everyone to understand that it is not the name or the packaging of the product that is banned, but the group of chemical compounds that gives the drug its characteristics. Changing the packaging will not change the legal status of the drug, and law enforcement officers in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere should proceed on that basis.

Banning the designer drug mephedrone resulted in a 300% increase in its use. Banning khat is likely to have the same effect. Has the Minister examined the report of the all-party group on drug policy reform that suggested the New Zealand proposal, which is intelligent and practical and is likely to lead to a reduction in use?

I spent over an hour last week speaking to the New Zealand Health Minister about precisely this subject. It is a very interesting area of policy development and we will study carefully what is happening in New Zealand and the policy there. I should offer a word of caution, however, to the hon. Gentleman, who has a long record of campaigning on the issue. Over recent years, we have seen quite big falls in the use of some of the most serious illegal drugs—heroin and crack cocaine—so the illegal status of those drugs does not appear to have led to the rise in use, as he claims would be the case.

Maryon Stewart, the founder of the Angelus Foundation, tragically lost her daughter Hester because of legal highs. She is calling for additional protection for young people through amendments to the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985, as set out in a new clause tabled by Labour to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently in Committee. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will support the strengthening of legal protection for our young people from legal highs when that is voted on in Committee tomorrow, and if not, why not?

I am sorry for everybody who is feeling that, in effect, everyone is invited to the Committee, although I suppose everyone is able to attend. It is a reasonable new clause. At present the way we proceed in this country is that there is an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—there is a scientific expert body of opinion that informs our drugs policy—but I readily acknowledge that the threat posed to public health by legal highs is a fast-evolving one, and that is why I have been talking to people such as the New Zealand Health Minister about how we can best respond to those threats.