Gordon Brown today hit back in the drugs row, insisting he was right to overrule scientists on cannabis.
In an exclusive interview with the Standard, he said the public backed him against calls for softer sentences related to drug abuse and he warned against the danger of giving “mixed
messages” to young people targeted by dealers.
“We'll get tougher on drugs,” declared the Prime Minister, defying threats of resignations by supporters of the sacked former chief drugs
adviser Professor David Nutt.
“A tough policy on drugs is essential and it is what the public want,” Mr Brown said. “I've seen the damage that drugs can do and people can see it in estates in London. I think I share the public concern about the effect that drugs have.”
Mr Brown spoke out as a row between Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Professor Nutt threatened to turn into a political crisis. Professor Nutt was sacked after claiming that LSD, ecstasy and cannabis were safer than alcohol.
Leaked emails today revealed that Science Minister Lord Drayson reacted furiously to the news that the drugs adviser had been sacked for “campaigning” against drug laws.
Today's Sun revealed that Lord Drayson fired a volley of protest emails to No 10. He said: “Alan [Johnson] did this without letting me know and giving me a chance to persuade him it's a big mistake. Is Gordon able to get Alan to
undo this? As science champion in Government' I can't just stand aside on this one.”
Mr Brown backed Mr Johnson's decision and defended the right of elected ministers to reject the advice of scientists at times. He said: “On climate change, or health, for example, we take the best scientific advise possible. But in an area like drugs we have to look at it in the round.
"We have got to look not just at what medics and scientists are saying to us — and we take that very seriously — but also what impact different
decisions can have on young, vulnerable people.”
At the heart of the dispute is Mr Brown's decision last year to reverse the reclassification of cannabis from a C to B, a move that flew in the face of Professor Nutt's claims that the drug was safer than alcohol or tobacco.
But Mr Brown told the Standard he had no regrets in sending a message to young people that “neither soft nor hard drugs are acceptable”.
“It was right to reclassify cannabis. It is right to reject any attempts to reclassify ecstasy. It's right also to say that drugs can cause such damage, particularly when dealers are pushing drugs on young people and making them
victims of a cruel trade ... I think everybody knows lives that have been ruined because of drugs.
“It's very important that we say yes, we take scientific advice seriously and will never ignore it, but yes, also, it is right that the people who make the final decisions and are accountable to Parliament for them are the Home
Secretary in this case or in other cases the Health Secretary or myself.”
Mr Brown said he had attempted to give a clear lead to youngsters through tougher drugs policies, including deporting foreign dealers, making welfare claimants go into rehab or risk losing benefits, and giving police powers to close crack houses.
“We have got a very tough line on drugs and you cannot send mixed messages,” he added.
He rejected the argument that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.
“We've seen brands of cannabis that are distorted by other products and ingredients. That's one of the reasons why it's important to send a message that drug abuse is not acceptable
and a criminal offence.”
Gordon's pledges: MPs, banks and Afghanistan
A clean-up of MPs expenses will not be delayed. Mr Brown said the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was being set up “in shadow
form” so that it would not delay work on implementing new curbs. “It is in a position to start work almost immediately,” said the Prime
That will be seen by MPs as a hint that final decisions will be rushed out before the election. In a message to MPs protesting at
proposed cuts in their claims, he said: “It is important we have a fair system but it is also important we put the old discredited system behind us.”
Asked if new expenses rules should give extra help to working mothers who become MPs, he said: “I want more women in the House of Commons. There has got to be proper provision.”
Taxpayers will get every penny back of the fortunes handed out to prop up the banks, the Prime Minister said. “I believe at the end of the day the Government will recoup all its money
from the banks — and possibly make a profit from what it has done,” he said.
He would not be drawn on the timescale of the payback, saying it “depends on how quickly the recession is over” and other factors. “We never acted to help bankers, we acted to help the people who depend on banks — the savers, the mortgage holders, the small businesses looking for funds.”
Hamid Karzai must clean up corruption in Afghanistan if he is to keep Western support, Mr Brown warned, “The important thing is to see action,” he said. “If you want to train up the police force, you have got to have the people there to train.
Equally we want them to take action against corruption.” He said Mr Karzai's presidential victory should help hasten the return home for British troops by making it possible to train 10,000 Afghan soldiers to carry on the fight against the Taliban without help.
A fierce attack on David Cameron and George Osborne for painting the economy as “broken” was launched by Mr Brown. “This whole idea that Britain is inevitably subject to an age of austerity with a broken economy, which is the Tory propaganda, is completely wrong, negative and selfdefeating,” he said.
“I think British people know we have a great deal to be optimistic about because we have great industries, great services, great talent, great inventive genius. You only need to look around London to see the talent, energy and enterprise in this great city, ready to export to the world, and ready to lead the world.”
Mr Brown claimed he is hopeful of a deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks, despite other major world leaders staying away. “Just as we did at the G20 on the financial crisis, we have the chance to show the world can act together.”
November 3, 2009
This Is London
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Gordon Brown: I’m right to overrule drug advisers