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David Davis: "Young and hopeful"

Speech to Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004

"I, like so many other parents and grandparents, have pictures of my children in my office.

But I am very lucky.

Because as a Member of Parliament I have the chance to try and make the world a better place for them to live in. To give them the opportunities, the freedom, the choice to make the most of their lives.

One thing can wreck those opportunities, destroy that freedom, and shatter those lives: drugs.

And the first thing I will do as Home Secretary is reverse this Government's foolish reclassification policy on cannabis.

Let me tell you why.

The Times recently told the story of a young cannabis user called Steve. His father Terry recalls how Steve turned to him one evening while watching television and said:

"Why did you ring the BBC?"

Terry said he hadn't.

"Yes you did" Steve said. "You rang them and told them I was lazy and they've been broadcasting it all day".

Steve had become paranoid and started to hear voices. Three years later, and after 3 months in a psychiatric ward, Steve lives at home with his parents. His paranoia is controlled by medication but he still hears voices, is unable to work and remains afraid to go out alone.

But compared with some, Steve is lucky.

The paper featured another article. A moving account from the mother of an art student. After a harrowing account of his addiction, she wrote:

"I knew how my bright, clever, acerbic, handsome son had been destroyed, his creative brain damaged, his strong physique crippled.

What made this boy, my lively, lovely, articulate son with his many gifts of perception, art, facility with languages, writing skills, critical capacity, acting ability, physical beauty, elegance of mind and body, sell his life to drugs?

George, her son, progressively declined into psychosis caused by cannabis. He died in a drug dealer's flat of heroin poisoning, the drug he took to escape the terrors of his psychotic episodes.

This weekend is the fourth anniversary of his death.

You can't listen to those two stories and believe cannabis is harmless.

After four studies proved the link between cannabis and psychosis, the papers were full of such stories. Including from those who had once been protagonists for cannabis legalisation. That was until their own children had suffered from the ill effects of marijuana.

The past 20 years have seen superpotent varieties of cannabis emerge, 10 times as powerful, and 10 times as dangerous. Making the problems worse.

Those who use cannabis by the age of 15 are over three times as likely to develop psychosis. In South London, the incidence of psychosis has doubled since 1964.

Some commentators say it is not the job of government to stop people ruining their lives. Well I believe it is when youngsters start smoking marijuana at the age of 10 or less.

Today this Government's policy on drugs is sending mixed messages to our children.

Reclassification of cannabis has persuaded many that cannabis is safe and legal. Wrong. It is neither.

We have opposed this lunacy.

And we will reverse it.

The Government has a responsibility to stop children and young people starting on the path of self-destruction. And it has a responsibility to stop those hell bent on self-destruction from ruining other people's lives.

The majority of new crime today is driven by drugs. Remember "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"? Well, Tony drug addiction is the largest single cause of crime. And what have you done about it?

Last year drug related crime cost the nation £25 billon. We lose as much as a result of drug related crime as we spend on education.

I'll say that again. Drugs cost society more than the Government spends on education.

Like drugs, crime is becoming all too prevalent in the lives of our youngsters. The majority of crimes are committed by those under the age of 18. But did you know that the majority of victims are also under the age of 18?

More and more young people are getting on the conveyor belt to crime. They move from truancy to petty vandalism to drugs to serious violent crime. And fewer and fewer are getting off this conveyor belt.

The number of persistent young offenders appearing before court has risen by 60 per cent since 1997. The re-offending rate for certain young offenders is almost 100 per cent. A quarter of all detainees at Young Offender Institutions have been convicted more than six times already. And the average detainee at a Secure Training Centre has been convicted a staggering twenty-two times before.

What greater indictment could there be of this Labour Government?

Facts like these show there is something fundamentally wrong with the system.

We've got to get youngsters out of this downward spiral. Labour have failed to do just that.

We have proposed different stages of intervention - and earlier intervention. If they end up in a young offenders institution then it is likely that they'll end up in an adult prison. The sooner we can prevent this, the better.

And one of those early interventions will be on drugs. Every year there are 20,000 youngsters addicted to hard drugs. There are only 2,000 rehab places available for them. We have pledged to increase that number ten-fold.

Drug addicts will be presented with a simple choice - residential treatment or the criminal justice system. For those under 18, when they complete their treatment their record for drug crime will be expunged - the slate will be wiped clean.

This is the central part of the Swedish government's strategy for a drug free society. It works there. It will work here.

Conservatives believe in opportunity. Nothing destroys opportunities, individuals, families and communities more than the menace of drugs and crime. Up and down the country communities are blighted by their impact.

Some people say we've lost the war on drugs.

But Labour haven't even begun to fight it.

They have capitulated.

Children are our country's future.

What sort of country do we want our children to grow up in?

A society dominated by drugs?

A society dominated by crime?

A society where honest, law-abiding people are too afraid to leave their homes because of gangs of intimidating yobs making their lives a misery?

Is this what New Labour means by New Britain?

Our country deserves better than this. Our children, our grandchildren, deserve better than this. Too many people in Britain have been afflicted by Labour's failure to get a grip of this problem. It's time we went out and told the British people that they don't have to sit back and watch their villages and town centres become abandoned to thugs and louts that make a mockery of decent society.

This will not be an easy battle. It is not fashionable. It is not simple. But it matters, if we are to guarantee that bright future for our youngsters.

So I promise you we will not flinch from this battle.

I promise you we will press it home.

And I promise you we will win it."

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