Blair accused of holding back reform of drug laws

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Indy Politics

A former Labour minister has blamed Tony Blair for slowing the pace of reform of the law on drugs.

Tony Banks said yesterday he felt the Government was not "going anywhere near far enough" on decriminalising drug use, adding that this was "probably due to the reluctance of the Prime Minister.

"I don't know what Mr Blair did at university," the MP for West Ham said. "But he clearly didn't get up to any naughty things whatsoever and we're all glad for that." Mr Banks said the Home Secretary's proposal to reduce the penalty for the personal use of cannabis was a "small and timid step".

Yesterday MPs from all parties called for softer penalties for people who used drugs on a recreational basis or grew them for their own consumption.

In an impassioned debate, Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, called for the decriminalisation of the recreational use of all drugs by individuals, including ecstasy and cocaine.

Mr Hughes, who represents Southwark North and Bermondsey, said that the police should concentrate on prosecuting drug dealers. "People who are recreational drug users we should treat as citizens. People who are addicts we should treat as victims because they need help," he said. "It's people who are the pushers, the dealers, the traffickers who are criminals. It seems to me that the personal use of recreational drugs should not be criminal."

The veteran drugs reform campaigner Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said that the Government's failure to reform the drug laws had led to the deaths of at least 5,000 people.

He said that jurors who had refused to convict seriously ill people who have used cannabis to relieve their pain had outpaced the Government.

Mr Flynn said one of his constituentshad been forced to buy drugs for her son on the street because of the lack of medical support.

European countries that had liberalised drug laws had seen consumption, even of hard drugs drop, he said. "In Holland, in every category, there's less use of drugs than there is here," he said. "What we are doing here with prohibition is killing our young people. Last year in this country 59 people were killed by prohibition. They were killed because their heroin was contaminated."

The Home Office minister Robert Ainsworth said: "If the availability of drugs such as cocaine and heroin increases substantially, the chances of children aged 10 getting into problems with these drugs, as I did with tobacco, must increase as well."

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