Calls grow for national debate on drugs

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair last night was facing growing calls from Labour backbenchers for an open debate about the decriminalisation of drugs after the killing of a five-year-old in Bolton.

Brian Iddon, the Labour MP for Bolton West, became the latest in a line of MPs to "think the unthinkable" by questioning the Government's policy of saying no to decriminalising drugs.

The boy's mother, Jane Hull, is facing eviction from her pounds 70-a-week terraced house in Jauncey Street. The Independent on Sunday reported that her landlady, Daxa Patel, is meeting lawyers today over her tenancy following warnings of another attack on the boy's stepfather, John Bates and residents' demands for them to leave the area.

The aftermath of the murder of Dillon Hull in what police believe was part of the turf wars between drug dealers has made Labour MPs bolder in calling for drugs law reform. Some MPs want drugs such as Ecstasy and cannabis to be legalised with more information about safe use, and hard drugs such as heroin to be freely prescribed by GPs.

"Clare Short mentioned the word `decriminalisation' and got into hot water for doing so but there are a number of people on the Labour backbenches who want an open, honest discussion about the drug problem," said Mr Iddon.

The controversy over the killing may also increase the support for a new all-party Commons group on drugs reform.

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP and a campaigner for drugs decriminalisation, claimed 25 Labour MPs had put down their names to join the group, including the Blairite members of the new intake with the Tory peer, Lord Mancroft, a former heroin addict.

Mr Flynn said the Government's appointment of a "drugs Czar" would open the debate. It had been a failure in America, and he said the terms of the Government's recent advertisement for the "Czar", calling for a war on drugs, showed the Government had learned none of the lessons of dealing with organised crime.

A backlash among some Labour MPs against Peter Mandelson, minister in charge of presentation of policy, would strengthen other Labour MPs in insisting that the drugs issue should be aired, he added.

"We are a drug-obsessed House of Commons but it is irrational. Almost all the premature deaths of MPs are drugs related.

"MPs' heads go back when I say that, but there are 16 bars in the House of Commons and they sound off about drugs with a whisky in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a packet of Paracetamol in their top pocket," said Mr Flynn.

A Downing Street source said the Government would not seek to prevent the debate, but it would strongly oppose the liberalisation of the drugs laws. "The party and the Government is opposed to that, and there will be no change in our position," said the source.

Mr Iddon is an unlikely rebel. He is 57, part of the new intake of Labour MPs, and a reader in chemistry at Salford University, and a Bolton borough councillor.

Mr Iddon said Labour "backed off" the debate about legalisation of soft drugs when it was raised by Ms Short, before she was appointed as the minister for international development. Ms Short survived the row, but was demoted from transport to be put in charge of the former overseas aid portfolio before the election.

Mr Blair and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, won the right to keep Britain's border controls at the EU Amsterdam as part of the strategy inherited from the Tories of combating drug smuggling and selling with tough criminal laws.