This afternoon MPs in the House of Commons discussed the government’s proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill, and the controversial clause that involves the banning of alkyl nitrites, more commonly known as ‘poppers’.
The vote on the final Psychoactive Substances Bill hasn’t taken place yet however, an amendment to exclude ‘poppers’ from the ban failed by a vote of 309 against to 228 for.
The ban on ‘poppers’ will be enacted on 1 April and those found guilty of selling them within the UK could face a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Opening up this afternoon’s debate, Kieth Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said: “I’m glad we’re not using the term legal highs any more, because they encourages people to try them.” He then repeated his committees “unanimous” recommendation to Mike Penning, the Home Office Minister overseeing the Psychoactive Substances Bill, that they should not be banned.
The most discussed contribution of the afternoon came from Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who is the uncle of actress Emily Blunt and is a former prisons minister. Mr blunt declared that he has used and currently uses poppers: “I use poppers, I out myself as a popper user, and would be directly affected by this legislation.
“I’m astonished then to find that it’s proposing to be banned and frankly so would many other gay men.
“And if I follow my own mindset reaction to this it simply serves to bring the whole law into disrepute.”
Mr Blunt went on to convey his worry that people would be forced to purchase poppers illegally and from unsafe sources.
Watch: Crispin Blunt says he uses poppers and calls plans to ban them “stupid”. https://t.co/Q3tMjFN3ua
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 20, 2016
Blimey – Parliament never ceases to amaze me, Crispin Blunt, former minister + chair of Foreign Affairs cttee just admitted to using poppers
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) January 20, 2016
Blunt said, 'I use poppers, I out myself as a poppers user' says govt would be 'fantastically stupid' to go with a ban
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) January 20, 2016
Later in the debate, Finchley and Golders Green’s MP Mike Freer thanked the Mr Penning for allowing organisations including: “The National AIDS Trust, Stonewall, MPG, and Boyz magazine” to discuss the topic in the Commons.
He went on to express his “considerable concern” concerning the proposed banning of poppers, and the “complete lack of empirical data” on the risks of inhaling alkyl nitrites. Mr Freer then went on to quote research by Dr Timothy Hall, an expert in isopropyl nitrates which was featured in GT in 2015. When asked whether ‘poppers’ were more dangerous than alcohol, Dr Hall replied: “No, these substances pose little threat to the public safety.”
Mr Freer also refereed to a letter from the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who concluded that alkyl nitrites are “not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem.”
This letter from the Advisory Committee of the Misuse of Drugs undermines the case pic.twitter.com/vb5yBVQVnL
— Mike Freer MP (@mikefreermp) January 13, 2016
He concluded by reminding the Commons that when considering banning ‘poppers’ they must talk about “the medicinal benefits and the psychological and relationship benefits” they can provide. Mr Freer also suggested that one option might be to sell ‘poppers’ through through licensed sex shops, to avoid an outright ban and the “underground drugs that people could be exposed to.”
The proposal to ban ‘poppers’ while in-depth research into their effects could be conducted, was refereed to as “an act of total madness,” by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb. He urged Mike Penning to re-consider this action and pause the ban on ‘popper’s until the research was completed.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s MP for Denton and Reddish feared that if ‘poppers’ were banned, it might encourage gay men to use other substances while having sex. He explained to the house: “It might be Class A or Class B drugs, It might be alcohol, any of those [alternative] substances could increase the risk of having unsafe sex, and that increases the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C and a string of other sexuality transmitted infections.”
Mr Gwynne went on to say: “The other point is, this could be potentially discriminatory against a group of people who are doing no harm, and just want to enjoy themselves in their relationship.”
Mike Penning, the Home Office Minister overseeing the bill told the House:”I do not want to criminalise every young person in the country.”
Adding: “I have no intent to make life difficult for any group. My soul role at this dispatch box is to protect.”
He went on to explain that when he began the consultation period for the bill, one of the things he asked in the early stages was for information about ‘poppers’ and alkyl nitrites.
He explained: “One of the first things put in front of me, [was] since 1993 – these nitrates have been mentioned 20 times on death certificates. Now if my role is to protect. And if my role is to make sure this legalisation does it’s job, I have to do that.”
Mr Penning went on to explain that after hearing evidence from numerous parties and fellow MPs he went away, and with the help of the Home Secretary, came up with a “compromise” and “a plan.”
The Plan Mr Penning refers to is a preliminary stage of evidence gathering by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Once this evidence is gathered he proposes it be assessed by an independent party chosen with the help of the Department of Health.
Following that, the Home Office and Department of Health will jointly agree on a plan of action. Mr Penning hoped that this would all be concluded by the summer recess.
UPDATE 17:26 GMT After it’s third reading, MPs have divided on the clause that exempts banning ‘poppers’ – 309 against to 228 for.
Mr Penning commented: “This has been an experience, I fully understand why previous ministers and previous governments looked hard at this bill.”
Lyn Brown, the Shadow Home Office Minister expressed her deep “disappointment” that poppers weren’t being placed on the exemptions list of the bill.