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Psychoactive Substances

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

The coalition Government has banned hundreds of new psychoactive substances. We work closely with law enforcement partners to tackle this reckless trade. Concerted action, which started in November, has resulted in 44 arrests and seizures of new psychoactive substances, including 9 kg seized by Kent police. I am leading a review to look at how the UK’s response to such new drugs can be further strengthened.

I thank the Minister for his response and for the action that has been taken so far. However, may I draw his attention to the report, “No Quick Fix”, that was compiled by the Centre for Social Justice? It shows that although there are 234 controlled drugs, 251 uncontrolled drugs are available as we speak and the figure is increasing by one a week. What will he do to close down the supply chain, particularly through head shops on the high street and through the internet?

I am happy to say that we have already banned more than 250 new substances. We will continue to introduce bans and to use temporary control orders. I have asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the generic definitions that are used to ban families of drugs to get even speedier action.

I welcome the Government’s review of legal highs, but is it not three years too late? In that time, the Government have not introduced a single measure to tackle the myth that just because those drugs are legal, they are safe.

It is not true that we have not introduced measures. I have just referred to the fact that 250 substances have been banned. We continue to take strong action, including police action, to deal with those who are breaking the law. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that a clear message should go out that just because something is deemed legal, it should not be assumed that it is safe. That is a central part of the Government’s message.

I congratulate the Government on the tough measures that they have taken on so-called legal highs and psychoactive substances. Apparently, some come in packages with cartoon-style images that are attractive to younger people. Will the Minister consider what can be done to restrict the packaging as well as the substances themselves?

I will happily look into that, and I share my hon. Friend’s view that that is entirely inappropriate marketing.

When does the Minister expect the review to be concluded, and will he consider giving police officers and trading standards officers more powers so that they can put an immediate stop on a new substance and put the onus on nefarious traders to prove that it is a hair product, plant food or whatever nonsense they call it?

We have a quick response already—faster than nearly every other country in the European Union—but I agree that we need to look further at that. The review is under way, as I mentioned, and will be concluded in the summer, coterminously with the international comparator study that my predecessor started, so we will also be able to examine how other countries are dealing with the challenge of new psychoactive substances.