LIB DEMS IN GLASGOW: Beith pushes case for drugs law review

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Liberal Democrat backing for a Royal Commission review of drug laws was forcefully underpinned yesterday by Alan Beith, the party's deputy leader and home affairs spokesman, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Mr Beith also accused Labour and the shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw of lacking a firm philosophy on which to base its law and order policy. "[A] knock on the door; it's Jack Straw. He's checking whether you have any recently used squeegee mops. And he wants you to turn your radio down. He's beginning to sound like the air raid warden in Dad's Army."

Contrasting his party's approach to drug abuse with the anti-debate agenda pursued by Labour in the Littleborough and Saddleworth poll, Mr Beith told the conference seizures by Customs stopped perhaps 20 per cent of imports. "Unless we can secure huge changes in attitudes to drug abuse, many thousands will continue to suffer both directly and indirectly from the consequences. We really must have a Royal Commission to look objectively at how solutions can be found."

He said: "If our society is to be ordered, civilised and free, it requires resources for education, to end the failure and the sense of hopelessness which turn so many youngsters off society and into crime; and resources in education can be used to make sure that parenthood, citizenship and drug awareness are among the things on which young people get guidance.

"An ordered and civilised society requires housing policies to tackle homelessness and bad housing conditions which are seedbeds of crime; it requires policies to promote jobs for youngsters who have been out of work since they left school."

Mr Beith said that with the Liberal Democrats, "you know what you will get". With the Conservatives, "you know what you've had and just about everyone has had enough of it". But with Labour, "you have a scratch card - you don't know what's on it unless you buy it through the ballot box and scratch off the numbers".

Mr Beith said Liberal Democrats did not claim to have all the answers or all the good ideas. "But we do make a fully justified claim to be the only party with policies for government firmly based on consistently held philosophical convictions."