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Policy Formulation

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

The Home Office’s policy-making process makes it clear that policies should be based on sound evidence. This is supported by the Department’s 330-plus scientific staff and the outputs from a variety of Home Office-funded research programmes.

May I invite the Home Secretary to comment on one example, which is the Government’s proposal to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B? If it is a policy decision or simply politics—a bad policy and bad politics—that is fine, but why ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look into the evidence for doing so, yet then plan to reject that advice and reclassify anyway? What is the point of having those structures for scientific advice if the Government have predetermined their position?

The only thing that I said on the record about the matter was that I would wait to see the advice that the advisory council gave. However, it is of course for advisers to advise and for the Government, as we are elected to, to decide.

The Home Secretary is right to remind the House that advisers are there to advise. One area where I would ask her to challenge the advisory council’s decision is on the use of khat, a drug used particularly by the Yemeni community that is currently legal, but which is causing disproportionate problems in some areas of our cities. I would ask the advisory council to look seriously at khat again and consider proscribing it.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the actions that we have undertaken under the 10-year drugs strategy that we published last month is to look in more detail at the growing impact of khat and what that implies for how we deal with it, in the way that she suggests.

Of course all policy should be based on evidence. My experience in the criminal courts is that a much more effective and cheaper alternative to prison for many drug offenders is a residential drug rehab bed, yet the Home Office has never been able to undertake research into what is more effective in reducing reconviction rates. Could the Home Office take a careful look and see whether appropriate research can be commissioned?

One of the other things that we are clear about in the drugs strategy is the need to maintain our research into the most effective forms of drug treatment. However, there is clear evidence that doubling the availability of drug treatment saw a 20 per cent. reduction in acquisitive crime. In increasing drug treatment, we have seen crime reducing. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we now need to be clear that that increased investment in treatment is going to the most effective forms of treatment, and we will ensure that that happens.

A draft research proposal using the inelegantly titled PEACE process—I am told that it stands for “Planning and Preparation; Engage and Explain; Account, Clarification and Challenge; Closure; Evaluation” and uses interpreters for interviews with non-English-speaking suspects—has been put forward by Kerry Marlow, one of my constituents, and his research group. Is that not a prime example of the police taking forward research that they need to improve working practices that the Home Office should be considering?

I cannot claim to have looked at that piece of research, but now that my hon. Friend has brought it to my attention and identified it as something that the local police are keen to research, I am sure that we will take a closer look at it.

While the Home Secretary is pondering the merits of evidence-based policies, perhaps she will take into account the evidence of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on her immigration policy. The Committee includes former Labour Ministers, a distinguished economist—Professor Richard Layard—and the Government’s own pensions adviser, Adair Turner. That Committee concludes that the Home Secretary’s main defence for her policy—that it increases gross domestic product—is, in the Committee’s words, “irrelevant” and “misleading”. Why should anyone believe the Home Secretary’s evidence rather than that of a cross-party Committee of people who actually know what they are talking about?

Actually, we have always argued that there is a positive impact from immigration, and that is supported by the Committee. However, I think that what the Committee says proves that we were right to set up the independent migration advisory committee to provide us with evidence for our new points-based system on which individuals will most benefit this country in terms of the skills that they bring. The largest reform in the immigration system for 40 years is based on that evidence and on that objective.