24/04/2012 08:34 BST | Updated 24/04/2012 11:15 BST

Russell Brand: Drug Addicts Need 'Love And Compassion'

Drug addiction should be seen as an illness to be treated rather than a crime to be punished, Russell Brand has told MPs.

Appearing before the home affairs select committee dressed in a black cowboy hat, black vest and a large gold chain, the comedian, who is a recovering drug addict, said society should regard people suffering from addiction "with compassion".

"The legislative status of addiction and criminalisation of addicts is symbolic and not really functional, I don't see how it especially helps," he said.

But Brand added he was not suggesting a "wacky free-for-all where people go around doing drugs".

The 36-year-old said he wanted to see more funding for abstinence-based programmes for drug addicts rather than the practice of simply putting them on methadone.

"There needs to be love and compassion to everybody involved," he said. "Not out of airy fairy 'let's all hold hands and hug' way ... but because it deals with the problem."

He told MPs that targeting the root emotional, social and spiritual causes of drug addiction would help "neutralise the toxic social threat" offered by drug addicts who committed crime to feed their habit as well as drunks who drive around "clattering into things".

"I'm not a legal expert. I'm saying that, to a drug addict, the legal aspect is irrelevant," he said. "If you need to get drugs, you will.

"Being arrested isn't a lesson, it's just an administrative blip."

In a lively performance before the MPs, Brand was asked to confirm he had been arrested "roughly 12 times" in the past.

"It was rough, yes" he joked.

He also took a shot at home secretary, Theresa May, who has ultimate responsibility for legislating on illegal drug use, and who was due to appear before the committee after him.

"Who's the next witness? Theresa May? Does she know what day it is?" Brand joked, in reference to the confusion as to whether terror suspect Abu Qatada had been arrested on the right day or not.

Veteran Labour MP David Winnick reprimanded Brand for turning the committee hearing into a "variety act". Brand replied that the 78-year-old was turning the session into an episode of "Dad's Army".

The committee chair, Keith Vaz, looked keen to end the session and told him that they were "running out of time".

"Time is infinite," Brand observed.