House of Lords
Monday, 29 October 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
Clerk of the Parliaments
rose to move to resolve that this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter KCB, LVO, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence, and integrity with which the said Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter has executed the important duties of his office.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I wish to pay a wholehearted tribute to Sir Paul, who will retire at the end of this week, for the work that he has done in your Lordships’ House, which he joined in 1964. Noble Lords who have been in the House for longer than me may well be aware of the great work of Sir Paul’s early career in enhancing the work of the Select Committees of your Lordships’ House. Sir Paul clerked the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure in 1970 and 1971, which marked the start of a long process of reviving the tradition of Lords Select Committee scrutiny—a tradition that had lain moribund for most of the last century. Select Committees are now widely recognised as a credit to this House, and it is in no small part because of Sir Paul’s work that this is so, especially because he was Clerk of the Committees from 1977 to 1990. I should say that his enthusiasm for sport and leisure is captured by his keenness as a longbow archer. His retirement will give him ample time to prepare for 2012, should we need him.
I have witnessed at first hand Sir Paul’s negotiating skills and marvel at how, with simply a small facial expression, he can convey pleasure, displeasure, acceptance, concern or—dare I say?—impatience with some of my more interesting ideas. What must life have been like when he was Private Secretary to the Chief Whip and Leader from 1974 to 1977, a time that noble Lords will recall as a period when the Government majority in the Commons was very slender? What is clear from the record is that he provided the kind of support that Chief Whips in particular dream of: a steady hand, great knowledge and, no doubt, brilliance when required. His facial expressions would have been used to great effect in those days.
When Sir Paul became Clerk of the Parliaments, he set himself four objectives: to be responsive to Members’ wishes, to make the House a place in which the staff are proud and pleased to work, to ensure that the management structures of the House are effective, and to increase the e-delivery of services. In each area, I am sure noble Lords will agree that he has made great progress—not least in taking the unprecedented step of commissioning a Members’ survey and overseeing a large number of changes as a result of that survey. And, of course, he saw through the consequences of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, not least in the election of the Lord Speaker. He leaves behind a very different House from that which he arrived in 43 years ago. It is more professional, harder working and has greater expectations of its administration. He leaves it a better place for his dedication to it.
I have no doubt that Sir Paul will fill his time well, not least as a gifted painter—all the paintings in his office are his own; he is also a French horn player: a man truly of many talents. He says that his life in large measure rotates around the seasons in his garden, though concedes that his wife Deborah is the chief gardener. He is a man, in my view, for all the seasons of your Lordships’ House.
Moved, to resolve, That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter, KCB, LVO, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence and integrity with which the said Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter has executed the important duties of his office.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, I am delighted to wholly endorse the sentiments of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her characteristically elegant and generous remarks. In fact, I feel rather nervous in stepping forward. After all, when Sir Paul entered the service of the House, I was all of four years old. In the subsequent 43 years, I have progressed from a toddler to what someone very unfairly called a waddler. But I am told that Sir Paul carried himself with the same upright dignity in 1964 as he does today at 65 years young.
We all know that Sir Paul really does look the part, and he has played the part. He seems to have grown from the very fibre of the place. If Pugin had drawn the “Clericus Parliamentorum”, surely he would have looked exactly like Sir Paul.
Indeed, well over 70 per cent of the House will be unable to recall when he has not been one of the senior Clerks sitting at the Table; and not 70 per cent but 100 per cent of us, even the old stagers, will miss him. As a young Clerk, as the noble Baroness explained, he was in the Leader’s office in the days when your Lordships were resisting the nationalisation of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. It seems now an entirely different world. But in this, as so often, we were ahead of the time and could see that nationalisation was not quite the coming thing. In fact, in the Sessions when Sir Paul was on watch in the Chief Whip’s office in the usual channels, there were 291 Divisions and the Government lost 267 of them—a success rate for Sir Paul of 9 per cent. So I say to the younger Clerks who have succeeded him in this role, don’t get too depressed.
Knowing Sir Paul to be a great enthusiast for modernisation, I turned to the internet for information on him. I was surprised, but not incredulous given his many interests, to discover that on the quiet and without telling your Lordships, a certain Paul G Hayter had recently filed an international patent for test strips for blood and urine samples. Biometric testing, no less. I had not known that he was listening so closely to our debates on the Identity Cards Bill, while musing on the commercial possibilities of retirement. Then I noticed that it was Paul G Hayter of Mountain View, California, not Paul G Hayter of Charlton, Oxfordshire.
But they are a talented lot, these Paul Hayters. After all, Sir Paul began his career, winning perhaps the most competitive scholarship of all, as a Kings’ scholar at Eton; and he has ended as one of Her Majesty’s foremost public servants.
On an occasion such as this we are reminded of the long service given by the Clerks to your Lordships’ House and that theirs is a career service requiring immense ability, professionalism and a high sense of duty, which Sir Paul has always displayed. He has always given crystal clear and well founded advice in a manner that we have instinctively trusted because he is a person that the House has felt it can absolutely trust. He has piloted the House through a period of considerable change, particularly in procedure. Not all of us have welcomed all of those changes but, all in all, the workings of our House have improved and that is greatly to his credit.
The Leader of the House has told us of Sir Paul’s remarkable range of interests; he is a man of many parts. He is an artist, a gardener, an archer and a musician, with a large instrument that I’m sure he plays with the greatest gusto. So he will not be twiddling his thumbs in what I hope will be long years of retirement. We wish him and Lady Hayter rich and rewarding years—and may they always be fun. I hope we will see him often back here in the years ahead. We thank him most sincerely for the years that are done.
My Lords, there are two dangers in contributing to tributes such as this. The first is that they can sound awfully like obituaries, and Sir Paul, wherever he is hiding, may now feel like Tom Sawyer listening to his own funeral service. The second danger is for me because, as number three on the list, everything worth saying about him will already have been said. That is why for the last month I have extended an open invitation to any member of the Lords’ staff to slip under my door a plain sheet of paper with any juicy titbit about Sir Paul that I could now reveal. Indeed, I had a fantasy that it might have been revealed that he was a closet Millwall fan and spent his Saturdays down at the New Den chanting, “You don’t like us but we don’t care”. Alas, no such information has come my way.
What we have, as noble Lords have heard, is a man with an enviably eclectic range of outside interests: painter; local historian; member of the parliamentary choir, as my noble friend Lord Wallace has asked me to emphasise; French horn player; expert with the longbow; and ruthless croquet player. The nearest thing I can produce to a shock revelation is to ask my noble friend the Earl of Glasgow to show again the excellent film he made in 1968 about the workings of the House of Lords. In that film a sequence shows the Clerks taking Questions. The star of that sequence is a distinctly hirsute future Clerk of the Parliaments.
The Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, have eloquently paid tribute to Sir Paul’s role as a reformer and innovator. I add my tribute. I have never seen Sir Paul as a barrier to change or a guardian of rules for rules’ sake. Rather, he has embodied and personified the skill of this House to know what needs to change and what needs to be retained. He has done so with a dignity that befits one of the oldest of our parliamentary offices, but always with a sense of humour and a total absence of pomposity. We on these Benches strongly support the Lord President’s Motion and wish Sir Paul and Lady Hayter many happy years in their garden, to which they depart with the thanks and good wishes of us all.
My Lords, I am pleased on behalf of the Cross-Benchers to join with those who have paid these well deserved tributes to Sir Paul on his retirement as Clerk of the Parliaments after 43 years here—I think I was a bit older than four at the time when he started—and for his four years, since 2003, as Clerk of the Parliaments.
For me and my Cross-Bench colleagues, Paul has been the fixed star when around us an enormous number of things have been changing: the departure of hereditary Peers, the arrival of the Lord Speaker on the Woolsack in place of the Lord Chancellor, the continuous discussion of potential changes that is always in the air. Paul has created an element of stability that we all welcome.
Most importantly for the Cross-Benchers, he has given us confidence that the interests of the House that he serves are defended and promoted, and that confidence has never been misplaced. I, like others, am sure that the House of Lords is stronger and more widely appreciated by the public now than when he first came into it and when he took over as Clerk of the Parliaments. That is a tribute that he deserves and which, when he has some time of his own to reflect on it, I think he will be pleased about.
Cross-Benchers, being bereft of Whips, hymn sheets, pagers and other political guidance, have to rely rather heavily on the services of Paul and his staff, and our satisfaction with all those services, including those that he has brought in himself such as the Table Office, reflects on his mastery and indicates how we are pleased by the way the services have developed.
Since I have had the pleasure—or misfortune—to serve as Convenor on a large number of administrative and practical committees of the House, I have also appreciated the large administrative charge that falls on the Clerk of the Parliaments as Accounting Officer, responsible for a substantial and diverse administration. The complexities increase, of course, as the building gets older, we buy Nos. 1 and 2 Millbank and our investment in security against terrorism becomes even more important and depressingly necessary. We thank Paul for all the work he has done on that.
All those tasks have been achieved with notable good humour and a manifest neutrality towards political and other differences. Indeed, I would say that, if he were not the Clerk of the Parliaments, he would be an ideal Cross-Bencher—and there is no better tribute than that which we can pay to Paul on his retirement from his high office.
My Lords, we on these Benches wish to be associated with all the comments that have been made in appreciation of Sir Paul’s work, and to say, following the previous comments, that he would be enormously welcome to join the Bishops as well. We need his talents.
We are sometimes tempted to believe that the excellence of the work of this House is due to our work, but I think that it is very much due to the work of those who serve us behind the scenes. We are conscious of what Sir Paul and his colleagues have done to ensure that this House is a contemporary, modern and lively place in which the business of Parliament can be pursued.
I am sure that I am not alone in this House in being conscious of how warm, generous and supportive all the staff are, and of how much that depends on the quality of leadership that they are given. We shall miss Sir Paul enormously. We on these Benches join those who have thanked him for all he has done for the House, for its staff and for us, and we wish him well for the future.
My Lords, before I put the Question perhaps I may add a couple of sentences of my own. As the Lord President said, Sir Paul had a special role in relation to the first Lord Speaker. Sixty Clerks of the Parliaments have advised more than 100 Lord Chancellors about their duties on the Woolsack, but only one has advised an incoming Lord Speaker and dealt with the challenges that that produced. As the House will not be surprised to hear, Sir Paul took on that role with a wonderful blend of good sense, good humour and authoritative knowledge of the House. In so far as the transition has been smooth, a great deal of the credit must go to him.
Over the past 15 months I have also come to appreciate Sir Paul’s person management skills. It was only about a year into the post that I realised that he has a particular technique which I call the “this-day-10-years’” rule. Whenever I put a suggestion to him that was particularly innovative and would have made other Clerks blanch or explode, he would do neither; he would simply look at me very gravely and say, “Well, Lord Speaker, I am certain that in 10 years’ time this is exactly the sort of thing that we will be considering”. The deal was done. He has been a tremendous servant to this House, and we all wish him and Lady Hayter a very full, and not too exhausting, retirement.
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.
My Lords, as the House will be aware, I have appointed Mr David Richard Beamish to be Clerk Assistant in place of Mr Michael Graham Pownall, appointed Clerk of the Parliaments. I have also appointed Mr Rhodri Havard Walters to be Reading Clerk in place of Mr David Richard Beamish, appointed Clerk Assistant. I therefore beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That this House do approve the appointment by the Lord Speaker, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Mr David Richard Beamish to be Clerk Assistant with effect from 4 November 2007 in place of Mr Michael Graham Pownall, appointed Clerk of the Parliaments.—(The Lord Speaker.)
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.
My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That this House do approve the appointment by the Lord Speaker, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Mr Rhodri Havard Walters to be Reading Clerk with effect from 4 November 2007 in place of Mr David Richard Beamish, appointed Clerk Assistant.—(The Lord Speaker.)
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.
My Lords, we have given £1.15 million to the World Food Programme and to Uganda Red Cross for food, water, sanitation, shelter, aircraft access and engineering costs to rebuild bridges. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund, to which we are the largest contributor, provides £3 million. We have supported the peace initiatives in northern Uganda for many years diplomatically, through humanitarian aid and financially. We have so far provided £250,000 for the Juba talks.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Is she aware that as half a million people have died, more than 25,000 children have been abducted in the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army and the people are still living in acute fear, the overwhelming desire is for peace? As leaders in the north emphasised to me only last week, peace is their priority, not justice. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore urge the Ugandan Government to reassure the population that the 90-day ultimatum recently signed with the DRC will not be used to initiate measures that could reignite conflict, but that their commitment is still to the peace talks?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the current peace talks provide the best chance of peace in northern Uganda for 21 years, and acknowledge the risk which she raises that President Museveni will push for action if he does not see tangible progress through the talks. I understand that President Museveni has recently given private assurances to the UN Special Envoy, President Chisano, that he will push for the 90-day agreement to be implemented only if the talks fail. I also recently had discussions, during my visit to the DRC, with President Kabila, who has immediate problems of his own to deal with in the eastern DRC. We continue to emphasise the need to give the talks a full chance and continue to rely on President Chisano to find the right balance in pressurising for a timely outcome and a successful one.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I give the noble Baroness a very warm welcome to the Dispatch Box. The recent flooding has created a need for massive humanitarian aid, including agricultural tools to enable people to grow crops, but many of the supplies sent by the Ugandan Government have proved useless, such as dead seeds and fake implements which break when used. Does DfID have any measures in place for effective monitoring of aid there?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s assessment of the Government of Uganda’s recent response, where agricultural inputs in particular have not been adequate. This issue has now been raised in the Ugandan Parliament and in the joint monitoring committee—which is attended by us as donors, by other donors, local officials, district officials and the national Government. The national Government have assured us that they will deal with the supply of agricultural inputs, and we have undertaken to raise this at the joint monitoring committee if they do not.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box. Does she agree that there has been a less than convincing commitment to peace by both sides in the desultory talks that have straggled on between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda? Does she have thoughts on how the flows of funding and equipment to the Lord’s Resistance Amy could be blocked? Will Her Majesty’s Government bring additional pressure to bear on President Museveni, perhaps particularly in the context of the prospective Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala?
My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend’s concern that the talks have been desultory. However, I am reassured by President Chisano’s recent upbeat assessment of the success of the talks. I hope that the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in Uganda will help to bring pressure to bear on the two parties to reach a result. As for the 90-day deadline, it is clear that pressure can be brought through a deadline and through the ICC warrants which have brought the LRA to the negotiating table for the first time.
My Lords, notwithstanding the ardent desire of the people for peace, does the noble Baroness agree that priority also has to be given to the trial of the four leading members of the LRA and that although lenient treatment might be accorded to lesser fry such as Opiyo Makasi, who gave himself up to the UN last week, it is essential that these four leaders should be tried either in the courts of Uganda or before the ICC? With regard to the floods, which it is generally agreed are due to global warming, and given that this issue is now on the agenda for the CHOGM, will she consider asking the president of the Royal Society to produce a memorandum on the latest state of scientific knowledge for submission to the delegates attending the conference in Uganda?
My Lords, I will look into the matter of a submission from the president of the Royal Society. It is clear that this is the ICC’s first test of effectiveness. The international community must therefore send a clear message that there is no impunity in serious crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that there is a desire for domestic justice. In an ongoing discussion, the mediation team is therefore trying to find measures that combine traditional and domestic forms of justice that could be compatible with the Rome statute of the ICC. It is then up to the Ugandan Government to put this to the ICC for consideration.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the 25,000 children, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to, who have been systematically tortured, brutalised and made into child soldiers? It is believed that 3,000 of those 25,000 children—many of whom have died—are now in captivity. Will my noble friend urge the Ugandan Government to do all that they can to get those children rescued from the hell that they have been going through?
My Lords, the abduction and gross abuse of children has tragically been the defining feature of this conflict, and forced conscription has been the favoured method of recruitment for the LRA. We do not know how many children are alive or still with the LRA. Sadly, some of them have become LRA commanders, not least one of the four LRA leaders indicted by the ICC. We continue to discuss with the Government of Uganda the best way of encouraging combatants, including children, to come safely out of the bush, including through the Amnesty Act and the recent peace talks. However, my noble friend will appreciate that a forced rescue attempt could in fact jeopardise the lives of those children and jeopardise the peace talks.
My Lords, I want to ask the Minister about access, and I speak as a chair of Christian Aid. What is DfID doing in relationship to the Ugandan Government and the authorities to ensure that much-needed aid can get through in northern Uganda and that the development agencies and others are able to operate in those areas?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a good point. The World Food Programme recently expressed concern that food aid was not reaching 150,000 people in Uganda. As a result, DfID has provided support for emergency rations to be airlifted to areas that were not accessible by road. Efforts have also been made to improve road access. We are bearing some of the costs of engineering to rebuild some of the roads to ensure that access is available for basic services.
Aviation: Liquid Ban
My Lords, the ban on passengers taking liquids on to commercial aircraft was lifted on 6 November 2006, following the introduction of European Union regulations applying across all member states. There remains a restriction on the quantities that passengers are permitted.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. No one doubts the need for a high level of aviation security. Does the Minister agree with his colleague, the Danish transport Minister, who has called for a,
“thorough evaluation, review and risk analysis of the current aviation security measures … so that [they] can be designed and implemented in a balanced and efficient way”?
The measures, which are secret and are not published—both the liquid ban and that on hand luggage—cause considerable inconvenience. Would it not be better if there was a review that was shared with parliamentary representatives, rather than us being asked to take on trust that they are the only way to properly ensure passenger safety? Might there not be other measures that are more proportionate and at least as effective?
My Lords, I understand why some passengers feel that they experience inconvenience when they go through the security protocols at airports, but we have to bear in mind the fact that the threat of terrorism is real and present. It is right that we should take the best advised measures. I ought also to put on record the fact that we continuously monitor the effectiveness of, in particular, the liquid security measures, as well as all the other measures that have been taken to ensure that security is at its tightest. The fact that there has not been a serious incident involving liquid explosives indicates, I would have thought, that the measures that we have put in place so far have been very effective.
My Lords, when did the Government last consider the effectiveness of the ban on passengers taking more than one piece of hand luggage on board commercial aircraft? That ban is particularly irksome to those passengers transferring internationally at UK airports and is commercially damaging to UK carriers.
My Lords, I can only assume that it was because the level of threat from a tube of toothpaste was considered rather less than that from a bottle of liquid. A friend of mine had two jars of Marmite confiscated, which I thought was a bit tough at the time, but these are the things that we have to put up with.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the best ways of avoiding the problems of security at airports is not to fly at all? Perhaps his department might discourage people from flying rather than encouraging them to get round the security problems.
Children: Paid Work
My Lords, staying safe is one of the five key Every Child Matters outcomes for children, to which the Government are committed in all circumstances. No child should be put in unacceptable danger by their employment, and legislation already deals with this. We also look to parents, carers, teachers and employers to take responsibility in advising young people about risky behaviour or unsafe experiences.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, is he aware that 607 children were injured at work in 2004-05, yet the law on children who work consists of 200 pieces of legislation and is very confusing? Is he also aware that, since the introduction in 1968 of the Children (Performances) Regulations, there has been no new guidance? Will he look very seriously at this matter in the light of the fact that the way that children who work are treated varies and is very inconsistent across the country?
My Lords, in response to the 2004 report on child employment legislation by the Better Regulation Task Force, the Government undertook to produce simple, best-practice guidance and we will do so. However, as the noble Baroness is aware, the law on the employment of children is very stringent and ensures that adequate protection is in place.
My Lords, is it due to laws or just due to the general attitude of society that children who used to take part-time work—in particular, paper deliveries—in the mornings are simply not interested now? I have asked in my local village but the response is, “Oh no, we might get an old-age pensioner to bring you papers but no way would a child take on this sort of activity any more”.
My Lords, I could not possibly comment on old-age pensioners taking up paper deliveries, although I am sure that it is a very worthwhile activity for those in need of additional income. The law on this matter relating to young people dates back to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, so I suspect that practice in this area is more to do with changes in social custom than the law. However, it may also be because children are working harder at school and taking their studies more seriously, which of course is thanks to the reforms introduced by this Government.
My Lords, will the Government consider giving guidance to the Learning and Skills Council so that sufficient funding is given to bodies that organise work experience to ensure that children can work safely in the premises of small to medium-sized firms and that those firms are not discouraged from offering such opportunities?
My Lords, the plethora of legislation covering the employment of children paints a confusing picture for employers. During the passage of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, the Government promised a communication strategy. Can the Minister say how extensive this has been?
My Lords, it is estimated that 218 million youngsters between the ages of five and 17 across the world are exploited in some way in the labour market. Is it not time for the Government to press the United Nations to strengthen, as well as implement, the Convention on the Rights of the Child? As has been reported in the newspapers over the past couple of days, sweatshops in India exploit children and the goods are then sold on the market in the UK. What discussions are the Government having with countries such as India where children are exploited?
My Lords, that question goes very wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I gave a full response on child labour and the rights of children internationally when I replied to a debate on child protection initiated last week by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I draw his attention to those remarks.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that out of his own mouth he has agreed with me that the legislation is very out of date? Is it not time that the 1933 Act to which he referred was updated and brought into line with the requirements of the modern world and modern children?
My Lords, we share the UN Secretary-General’s view that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable. We see an early resolution of Kosovo’s status as crucial to the stability and security of the Balkans and Europe as a whole. The UK fully supports the troika process aimed at securing agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. We are urging both sides to engage constructively and creatively with the aim of reaching agreement before the process concludes on 10 December.
My Lords, the troika bought time to 10 December in the vain hope that there could be some form of compromise between Pristina and Belgrade. Clearly, that was not to be. Can my noble friend say whether, as a result of discussions in Lisbon over the weekend, there is now a greater convergence between EU members in respect of the Ahtisaari plan for conditional independence, and whether in the discussions with President Putin there was talk of a grand design under which Kosovo, the missile defence, and CFE would be brought into play?
My Lords, I am not aware of any such grand design emerging at this stage. We live in hope that by 10 December there will be progress, but we have made it clear to all our European partners that if a new agreement that is acceptable to all parties does not emerge, the proposals of President Ahtisaari remain by far the best way forward in our view.
My Lords, the Minister says that we live in hope, which of course we all do. Given that between the two sides the choice is Serbia’s offer of very broad autonomy and the Ahtisaari plan—supported by many people in Kosovo—of internationally supervised independence, it does not seem to the outsider that these things are endlessly and for ever apart. While I appreciate that there has to be a report by the troika to the UN on 10 December, is not the secret of going forward to think in terms of a series of meetings and to make time our ally? With time, these two positions can be reconciled. The tiny Serbian minorities can be reassured that they will not be slaughtered and we can see at last a way forward for these unhappy people. Could we voice that sort of opinion within our role in the EU and within the troika, which will report?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that time is important, but we feel that we have given a lot of time to this process, and without a deadline for people to confirm their final point of view, the discussion could go on endlessly. Having said that, the reason I expressed the sentiment that we live in hope is precisely because of what the noble Lord says. In fact, the differences between the two positions are not as extreme as they might appear on first encounter between a high degree of autonomy and a managed independence, which nevertheless protects the rights of the Serbian minorities and ensures through the participation of the European Union in those arrangements that those rights are guaranteed. We still hope that reason will prevail and a solution will be found before 10 December.
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that it is rather hard to understand precisely what is driving the degree of Russian opposition here, particularly because at a recent meeting—on 27 September—in New York, chaired by the Foreign Secretary, Russia clearly expressed itself as committed to both finding a solution and acknowledging that the current situation was unsustainable.
My Lords, we are all aware that this has implications for Serbian domestic politics as well as for the future of Kosovo. Some of us have been lobbied by moderate Serbian politicians not to push them too far because of the long-term implications. Given that long-term peace in the region depends on future economic, social and political co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia, what efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making to persuade the more rational elements of Serbian politics that a settlement within a time limit is in their interests as well as everyone else’s?
My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken that we have impressed upon the Kosovars themselves that they should not get ahead of the international community’s timeline. We will have to take stock of what happens on December 10 and the way forward; we want to avoid any precipitate declarations by any side about this.
As for the Serbians, we have insisted that there are economic gains in their improved and future relations with Europe. Equally, however, we must be realistic that, for Serbians, this is the ultimate red line in the sand, a further reduction and dismantling of their former country. It is therefore enormously hard to find economic incentives matching the political loss which they feel they will encounter.
My Lords, before I ask my noble friend about relations between NATO and the European Union and future security arrangements in Kosovo, for the sake of propriety I must say that I am the chairman of Cable & Wireless International which operates a mobile phone service in Kosovo through one of its subsidiary companies. However, on Brussels and the relationship between NATO and the EU, are there still frustrating bottlenecks in discussions about a possible transfer of the security authorities, occasioned by the problems associated with NATO/EU relations given the situation in Cyprus and with Turkey?
My Lords, my noble friend is an expert on EU/NATO relations and their frustrations. I hesitate to offer him an answer which goes way beyond my own competence on this point, yet nowhere near his own. If he will forgive me, I will resist giving him an answer now but will look into it and come back to him.
My Lords, parallel to the pursuit of peace in Kosovo, there is the question of whether the EU is going to conclude an association agreement with Serbia and insist on conditionality in co-operation with the Hague Tribunal, notably in the capture of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no linkage of these two things such that Serbia is let off the hook of the capture of those war criminals for its co-operation with a settlement in Kosovo?
My Lords, the need for the capture of the war criminals has been a public part of the EU’s diplomacy with Serbia for a long time. There is not likely to be any change on that. Serbia gets the message that these are different aspects of its sad history which must be cleared up before its relationship with Europe can proceed to the next step.
European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 July be approved. 24th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Crawley on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24 July be approved. 26th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Grocott.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Traffic Management Permit Scheme (England) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Crawley on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 July be approved. 25th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Grocott).
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Criminal Defence Service (Very High Cost Cases) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 July be approved. 25th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Energy: Radioactive Waste Management (S&T Report)
rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Radioactive Waste Management: An Update (4th Report, HL Paper 109).
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I move the Motion in the place of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, the chairman of the Select Committee, who is unable to be present today.
This is the fourth time that the committee has returned to the subject of radioactive waste management. The first report was produced in 1999 by a sub-committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. We benefited greatly by his co-option on to this inquiry, together with the noble Lords, Lord Flowers and Lord Oxburgh, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin, all of whom have a great deal of expertise in this subject going back a long time. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, and my noble friend are participating in today’s debate.
The 1999 report concluded that phased disposal in a deep geological repository was the most feasible and desirable method for dealing with radioactive waste. It called for the establishment of a new, statutory body with responsibility for developing an overarching and comprehensive implementation strategy, and recommended that implementation proposals should be subject to explicit endorsement by Parliament at regular intervals.
After four years’ delay, the Government appointed in 2003 the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to review the options and make recommendations. CoRWM duly reported in July 2006. We welcomed this report as it broadly echoed and developed the recommendations we came to seven years earlier. It particularly stressed that a suitable site could only be determined by a combination of geological criteria and by a participative process in which potential host communities could have full confidence. Much of the trouble we have got into has been the result of an obvious lack of suitably and properly structured participative processes.
The key difference between CoRWM's recommendations and our 1999 recommendations is that we would have established an independent body outside government control which would have been established by primary legislation and would have required explicit endorsements by Parliament at regular intervals. CoRWM recommended an independent body to oversee implementation, but did not recommend either a statutory basis or accountability to Parliament. As we say in paragraph 1.6 of our report, CoRWM's proposals, although not inconsistent with our own, were in certain important respects watered down.
The Government's response to the report in October 2006, which broadly accepted CoRWM's advice, diluted the recommendation to establish an independent overseeing body still further. The Government decided to give responsibility for the implementation of radioactive waste management to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority under its responsibilities derived from the Energy Act 2004. CoRWM's successor will be constituted as an independent advisory board. That will be the new CoRWM.
We are firmly persuaded that this dilution of successive recommendations is not the way to build up public trust. Radioactive waste management is a difficult and controversial area of energy policy. Past efforts to resolve the issue of legacy waste disposal have been tainted by secrecy, leading to an erosion of public confidence. The Government's decision is likely to lead to increasing the potential for conflict and confusion in the institutional arrangements. The Energy Act does not explicitly mention geological disposal. If the Government cannot accept our original proposal for a single independent body with responsibility for overseeing the entire programme, scrutinising and holding to account key players on behalf of Parliament, then, as we say in paragraph 2.18 of our report, at least they should accept CoRWM's advice, watered down though it is, to set up an independent overseeing body. Given the division of responsibilities between the Government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the regulators, it is critical that the remit, responsibilities and lines of accountability of the key players in the programme are clear and transparent. The committee struggled to understand the “alphabet soup” of responsible organisations.
We do not dispute that the terms of the Energy Act are sufficiently broad—indeed, some would say vague—to allow the NDA to undertake this function without amendment to legislation. However, vagueness is not enough. The Act does not appear to have been drafted with these extended responsibilities in mind, and we are not aware that the role of the NDA in geological disposal has ever been debated or endorsed by Parliament. Therefore, to achieve that, we recommend in paragraph 2.41 that the Energy Act be amended to reflect the changing nature of the NDA's responsibilities.
We refer to the new role of the CoRWM—now reconstituted in an advisory capacity—in paragraphs 2.49 to 2.71. In paragraph 2.50, we quote the Government’s insistence that,
“the Committee will have teeth, in that we shall expect the Government in conjunction with NDA, to consider and respond to its advice”.
We recently met the new Minister, Phil Woolas MP, and we were encouraged to hear that our recommendation has led to CoRWM’s terms of reference being strengthened to include the statement that the Government will respond to all substantive advice.
On the point of scrutiny, we recommend in paragraph 2.62 that the new CoRWM should have a clearly defined and authoritative role in scrutinising geological disposal strategy and development. The terms of reference set out that CoRWM’s primary task is to provide independent scrutiny on the radioactive waste disposal programme. There is a danger that the term “scrutiny” will be interpreted differently by different people. The chairman of NDA, when asked what he understood scrutiny to mean in this context, told us that he imagined,
“it means that there will be an opportunity for such a body to comment on whatever we do”.
That seems a very limited concept of scrutiny. In paragraph 2.68, we call for the relationship between the new CoRWM and the NDA to be clarified to avoid confusion leading to a lack of confidence in the integrity of the scrutiny CoRWM is intended to deliver.
As our committee has been critical of the years that it took Government to determine a radioactive waste disposal policy, we obviously welcome the progress that is now being made, but would caution against undue haste. The public must have confidence in the quality of the science, the scrutiny, the regulation and, above all, the opportunities for public dialogue and participation. Much will depend on the right mix of skills and expertise in the membership of CoRWM under its chair designate, Professor Robert Pickard, whose appointment we welcome.
Lastly, we refer to the need to ensure the supply of the specialist nuclear skills required for the long-term geological disposal programme. An expert workshop held at the University of Loughborough highlighted the significant decline in the nuclear skills base. The meeting called for a nuclear skills renaissance to revitalise the skills base in this sector. We have serious concerns that without such a rebuilding of our nuclear skills capacity, the radioactive waste management programme would be at risk and public confidence in the programme would be impossible to maintain. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Radioactive Waste Management: An Update (4th Report, HL Paper 109).—(The Earl of Selborne.)
My Lords, I speak in support of the report of the Science and Technology Committee. Nuclear waste is an essential part of restarting the UK nuclear energy programme. I declare an interest as a member of the stakeholder advisory group of EDF Energy, but my remarks are entirely my own.
The report makes some welcome points, particularly about the need for an independent body to advise and scrutinise on behalf of the Government, Parliament and the public about these issues of nuclear waste, and, in particular, the geological places to store it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on the report.
The report recommends setting up a nuclear research and development facility. It is essential that both bodies have broader terms of reference than envisaged in the report and will be able to explore widely all the scientific and engineering aspects. At the moment it is almost impossible in the UK, even in scientific and engineering meetings, to hear about the wide range of technologies and policies for nuclear energy and waste processing being considered by independent and government experts in the United States, France, Russia, China and even the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Indeed, the only place where some of these issues can be raised seems to be in the House of Lords and published in Hansard. For example, correspondence with the leading French expert was refused by Nature, New Scientist and all the UK national newspapers, even though these are openly available in the bulletins of the American Physical Society, the IAEA in Vienna, and so on.
The issue that the UK establishment—here I exclude Hansard—wishes to suppress is the fact that nuclear waste does not need to be stored for tens of thousands of years in geological repositories. That is only one possibility. However, temporary storage is certainly highly necessary to start our nuclear programme, and probably necessary there for many tens of years. But, as my noble friend Lord Sainsbury explained to this House, which many Members have forgotten, on 5 June 2006 in his reply to my Question,
“research into emergent technologies such as partitioning and transmutation is being supported by such organisations as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority”—
a UK authority—
“and via the UK’s membership of international bodies such as EURATOM. However, as the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has highlighted in its preliminary recommendations on the disposal of higher activity radioactive wastes, it will be many years before technologies such as transmutation are capable of dealing with such wastes on an industrial scale”.—[Official Report, 5/6/06; col. 1041.]
The implication of this reply on behalf of the department is that one should not preclude the possibility that in future such technologies will be available, and therefore the form of temporary storage in geological repositories should bear that in mind. There is no reference to that in this report or in any other official document that I have seen.
Officials in the United States and France talk openly of the possibility of reusing uranium nuclear waste over timescales of hundreds of years when the resources of uranium may well have to be used more efficiently. India, China and Russia are actively looking into those issues. In my discussions in Parliament I have found that no one knows about these possibilities. Some colleagues, indeed, have said—in one case after the intervention of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury—that if these future scenarios were explained they would have a more positive view of nuclear energy. So I urge the committee, the Government and the UK scientific and engineering establishment to join the world discussion and to participate much more fully at IAEA in Vienna where it seems that the UK is represented by diplomats and officials—quite rightly—dealing with very difficult issues; but it should be a major forum where these future strategies and scenarios are considered. They should be thinking the unthinkable about future fission and fusion energy cycles, some of which were proposed by UK Nobel Prize winners as long ago as 1945. Then we could perhaps begin to have a debate about genuinely sustainable policies and practices for nuclear programmes. Using our geological storage over the next decades would be just the beginning of the stage.
My experience is that having a longer term vision, which many other countries do, will help the debate and the decisions, as opposed to these discussions about what are we going to do this month, next month or a few months ahead. We must raise our perspective on this. I believe that that will help the political debate.
My Lords, I speak as a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, although I was not involved in the initial report on the management of radioactive nuclear waste back in 1999, and only peripherally involved in the 2004 report which was under way when I joined the committee in 2004. So this report is the only one with which I have been personally involved.
The report comes after the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management had reported. Although in the 2004 report we were extremely critical of CoRWM, especially at the length of time that the committee was taking and its concentration on stakeholder engagement to the exclusion, we felt, of scientific analysis, when it came to it, there was much in the CoRWM report that we welcomed. In particular, we welcomed the following points: first, its agreement with our 1999 report that deep geological disposal at present represents the best procedure for the management of high-level and intermediate waste—I take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt; secondly, that the site for such disposal should be chosen not just by its geological suitability but by the process of consultation and the willingness on the part of the local community to participate in that process; thirdly, that a robust programme of interim storage must play an integral part in such a long-term strategy—if for no other reason than that it is likely to be at least 30 years before any long-term storage facilities are completed and ready for use; and, lastly, that the implementation process should be overseen by an independent body.
It is that latter point which, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, suggested in his introduction, has caused much of the discussion surrounding the current report which we put before the House. Although CoRWM endorsed the idea of an independent body, it nevertheless watered it down and the Government have watered it down yet further. The original 1999 proposal was that a new statutory body should be created with responsibility for developing an overarching and comprehensive implementation strategy. In other words, it should be a major board independent of government which would have responsibility for ensuring that the policy of deep geological disposal was developed and carried through—independent of government but answerable directly to Parliament.
The reasons why the committee put forward that idea were, first, that we felt that the Government had by 1999, after a series of very unfortunate developments with Nirex, when proposals had been turned down by lengthy inquiries, lost credibility and trust in the eyes of the public on nuclear issues and that a body was needed where discussion and decisions were open and transparent. Secondly, because the programme for deep geological disposal would be so long-term and expensive, there was a need to take it away from the vagaries of political manoeuvring—a 30-year programme outdistances the life of many a Parliament—and give it to a body with long-term commitment and credibility.
I have been trying to think of an equivalent analogue in terms of other boards. We have boards such as those of the British Library or the National Archives, which are guardians of our written and, increasingly, our digital heritage. I also thought of the National Physical Laboratory, which was set up at the end of the 19th century to safeguard the independence of weights and measures. But I do not think that any of them are direct analogies to what we are suggesting here. I do not know that there is a direct analogy, but it should be a board with overarching responsibility, but not necessarily for implementation, merely for making sure that the policy is implemented.
The CoRWM proposal was, as I said, a watered-down version of our proposals, and the Government have watered them down yet further. In their response, they made it clear that policy decisions would remain in the hands of the Government themselves, with Defra being the responsible department for managing nuclear waste, but with implementation in the hands of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which was itself responsible to the DTI. I guess that it is now responsible to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The independent body—the reconstituted CoRWM, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has indicated—would merely have the role of scrutiny of the NDA’s actions and of advice to government, alongside that of two other committees: the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Implementation Planning Group and a new departmental committee, the Repository Development Monitoring Committee, both of which are official committees made up of civil servants, not of outside members. In the mean time, the NDA itself was to be subject to the scrutiny of a plethora of regulators—the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Scottish and Northern Ireland environmental protection agencies—while the Government were also setting up a new national expert group of scientists to advise them on these nuclear issues.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the committee has criticised the Government for muddying the field—amid this plethora of institutions, it is difficult to find out who is supposed to do what—and for watering down the original proposal to make it almost meaningless. Are scrutiny and advice the same thing? The Government’s response seems to use them interchangeably. And what teeth does this imply for the new CoRWM? What if the Government simply neglect its advice? To do them justice, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has indicated, the Government have listened to some of these criticisms and have clarified roles and enhanced the independence to be given to the new CoRWM in the revised terms of reference issued in July. It is, for example, to be able to lay its reports directly before Parliament, and in this sense to hold the Government and their agencies more directly to account. Nevertheless, it remains a very limp reflection of what the committee originally proposed.
I have two further points to make, which arise from the proposed timetable for geological disposal set out in Chapter 6 of the June 2007 consultation document, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely, which makes it clear that no work on the actual, physical work of developing geological disposal facilities will begin until at least 2020. The period up to then is taken up first by the geological screening and discussions with possible partners. The process is seen to take two to three decades, and there is construction only in the last quartile of that period.
My first question is therefore about what happens between now and then. The assumption must be that we maintain the stockpiles of high and intermediate-level nuclear waste in their current locations on NDA sites. This was the subject of CoRWM’s second main recommendation—that a robust programme of interim storage must play an integral part in the long-term management strategy. The Government accepted this recommendation completely, and we were promised that the NDA’s review of interim storage needs would be brought before the Government and form part of the future strategy. In our report, we raised the issue of nuclear security, and asked that the Government engage in much more open dialogue with local communities and stakeholders on the risks associated with the current storage facilities.
Among the evidence that we received during this inquiry was a very long paper from Dr. David Lowry, who I understand is an expert on nuclear security, in which he asks questions about the security aspects of nuclear storage. We followed this up with the NDA and the Minister and, as our report reflects, were reassured that the Office for Civil Nuclear Security—the OCNS—kept a strict eye on these issues, and that the NDA and OCNS work to a site-security plan on all sites. Obviously, the details of these plans must remain secret. Nevertheless, as Dr. Lowry points out on page 75 of the evidence that is published with our report, it is alarming that, in an exhibition at Sellafield hosted by BNFL and prepared by the Science Museum, the following statement was apparently among the displays:
“The high-level liquid waste that comes from reprocessing is stored in constantly cooled tanks at Sellafield. These tanks represent one of the world's most hazardous concentrations of long-lived radioactive material and are, therefore, a prime terrorist target. An attack on these tanks, similar to the one in New York in September 2001, could have extremely serious consequences for much of the UK and Ireland”.
I do know when the exhibition took place but would guess that it was two or three years ago. Will the Minister therefore assure us that the Government are well aware of these risks and have taken or are taking appropriate action? In particular, with the build-up of high-level nuclear waste and spent fuel as a result of the decommissioning programme, can we be assured that further concentration of such material at Sellafield will be sanctioned only if it can be safely housed? As I said, since geological disposal is still some two to three decades off, we are talking about an interim not of two to three years but of 20 to 25 years.
My final question also relates to this timetable and the costs of deep geological disposal. Among the papers distributed to the committee was an answer to a freedom of information request to the NDA to provide the figures underlying the graph in its annual report for 2005-06 relating to NDA annual site costs at undiscounted current prices. I note that the figures show a satisfying drop in expenditure each year from the current level of £2.3 billion and level off at around the £500 million mark in 2030. Do these figures include the cost of building a deep geological disposal facility, and, if so, is it really assumed that the costs will cause no substantial increase in expenditure over the five to 10-year period that it will take to build such a facility? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answer to both those questions.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest albeit a rather diffuse one: before I was personally transmuted into a theoretical biologist with interests in ecology and conservation biology, I was a plasma physicist working on the basic science underlying fusion reaction. I spent 11 years at Princeton as the officer of the university responsible for oversight of the United States’ major fusion lab. Fusion and fission are different things, but they both have problems of disposal. I was a member of the Science and Technology Committee that produced this report but not of the previous ones.
I wish to make three points in connection with the report. The first has already been emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and I am sure that it will be mentioned in the debate by other noble Lords, most of whom, unlike me, have experience and knowledge of the earlier reports. The point was summed up well by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, but bears repetition. In 1999, the Science and Technology Committee called for the Government to set up,
“a wholly independent, permanent body, subject to regular endorsement by Parliament”.
We again urge the Government to do that. A further recommendation states that if that is already beyond accomplishment, then for goodness’ sake let us use the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to get as close as we can to that recommendation for an independent body.
What is the idea behind this and why do we keep banging on about it? We are dealing with a problem the life of which is much longer than any one Parliament or Government. For continuity over such a prolonged period, the 1999 Science and Technology Committee and its successors saw—and see—the need, reaffirmed yet again, for an empowered, authoritative oversight committee with regular reference to Parliament. It should report at least once in each Parliament, with accompanying debate in both Houses and consequent ongoing approval of the process. It should be not just a formal report made to Parliament but a debate in both Chambers.
We had a very constructive informal meeting with the relevant Minister of State, Mr Woolas. However, the exchange around this recommendation suggested that it is an unusual procedure and has no precedent. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, who is not able to be with us today but who is vastly experienced in these matters, put it well. He said that this is a unique issue and that the process we are seeking to put in place is one that will deal with it—something that will probably never occur again. Given that, it is possible to adopt unique methods for dealing with it. We do not have to bother with precedents and parallels because there are not any.
Noble Lords would expect me, as a pedantic academic, to add a technical appendix to my first point. If the 1999 recommendation is beyond retrieval then we strongly urge that, at the very least, as one of our other recommendations, publication of the envisioned consultation document should be delayed until the terms of reference for the new Committee on Radioactive Waste Management have been finalised and its members appointed. It should be involved in the consultative process. I shall come back to another aspect of that in my third point.
My second point is a bit of a digression and concerns the Government’s emphasis of this as an issue of “legacy waste”, a point which pervades the process. Like others, I understand and sympathise with the motive behind that; this is a difficult and divisive topic. We already have legacy waste, and by focusing on that one can in a sense avoid the issue of the future. But that makes no sense, because waste is waste. It is difficult to imagine a conscientious and sensible evaluation of future energy generation in which nuclear does not play a part in the medium term, so we should not try to hide behind the pretence that this is meant to solve a legacy issue. We should be looking at the issue of waste.
I want to dwell on that subject for a moment. Currently, roughly 80 per cent of the world’s primary energy comes from burning fossil fuels, thereby releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Ten per cent of our energy comes from burning biomass—wood—most of which also puts CO2 into the atmosphere. Of the 10 percentage points of global energy that do not do so, nuclear comprises 7 per cent and all the renewables—hydro, thermal, windmills and everything else—make up the sum with 3 per cent. Furthermore, in considering energy from radioactivity, we should remember that we would not be here without radioactivity. If it were not for radioactivity from the core of the Earth—the underlying source of thermal energy, because it is hotter down there—the Earth would have frozen over a couple of billion years ago. For Darwin, a killer argument for the theory of evolution was that, in his day, they could not understand how the planet had been here for more than a couple of million years.
These issues have to be viewed through the prism of everyone’s points of view, but public attitudes are changing. Modern, generation III nuclear reactors are designed to limit the consequences even of extreme accidents and they produce by an order of magnitude less waste than contemporary versions. It is also worth stressing, on my second point, that the attitudes which we adopt to these issues depend on what we take for granted. I should like briefly to summarise an interesting Australian study. It pointed out that there would be severe questioning of any proposal to develop a power-generation method that for each gigawatt year of electricity produced waste streams of 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 3.3 million cubic metres of solid waste—the volume of 1,352 Olympic swimming pools say the Australians, who are into swimming pools for understandable reasons—waste containing heavy metals including arsenic, uranium and thorium. Yet that is the waste stream from a single existing large coal-fired power station in New South Wales.
On the other hand, a modern nuclear power plant producing the same amount of electricity would produce a waste stream containing 16 cubic metres of spent fuel and, in its total lifetime including its manufacture, less than 1 per cent of the CO2 input, and that is the issue on which we are focusing. Returning to the matter of Olympic swimming pools, of which I as an Australian am fond, for the past 25 years France has produced 80 per cent of its electric power for domestic use and for export from nuclear stations, but the total waste produced as a result would not fill one Olympic pool. So we need to look at this not only as a legacy issue but in the round.
My third and final point is a brief and non-trivial procedural matter concerning the method of appointment to the new Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. We were reassured that there would be a commitment to getting the best people through re-advertising and so on, but I found the assurances less than reassuring. Regardless of whether we get the ideal arrangement wished for by those informed of the issues or a compromise, it is vital that the oversight committee should have the best people. They have to be good and be seen to be good. Therefore, like any good business or good university, we have to engage outside experts and get them to help us persuade the best people. Comparisons between our committees in this area and those in France are embarrassing to us. We not only have to ask the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society about the matter but must engage them and their good offices in it.
This is not only a legacy issue but a long-term issue that deserves an empowered and independent oversight committee of the best people who will report in a substantial form to each Parliament, which will have debates. That is the way to do it right and the way to be seen to be doing it right. That is of overriding importance.
My Lords, many of the points that I might have made have already been well made by others. I was a member of the original Select Committee in 1999, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, and I have had the privilege of serving as either a member or a co-opted member of all the subsequent committees.
My noble friend Lord Selborne has set out very clearly the preferred structure that we put forward in the 1999 report. There were three main features: a new permanent independent statutory body to do the job; an expert advisory body to scrutinise and report, with direct accountability to Parliament; and, as the noble Lord, Lord May, has emphasised, regular debates in both Houses, with votes to endorse the continuation of the process.
As has been said by previous speakers, we are dealing here with a unique situation. Governments have not hitherto had to address the problem of processes that have to last for hundreds of years. I recently read a report on the various half-lives of the products with which we shall be dealing and it is perfectly clear that this requires a very long-term policy indeed. That was why the 1999 report recognised that existing precedents were not reliable and so we made our own proposal. That proposal has been rejected by the Government, and there seems to be an assumption that it is beyond retrieval. I am not sure that I necessarily accept that.
Then we had the CoRWM proposals—again, an independent body to oversee and scrutinise the programme and its implementation. That too has been rejected by Ministers, who have proposed instead the very watered down advisory body, the so-called new CoRWM.
Finally, we have had the Government’s proposals that, instead of the new statutory body, they will entrust the implementation to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has to add this huge long-term task to its existing, much shorter-term decommissioning role. To my astonishment, Ministers and their advisers pretend that that was always in mind. Indeed, that was among the evidence that we heard. Mr Chris De Grouchy, an official of the department, said on page 31 of the evidence in our report:
“I think that was an issue that was in minds at the time that the Bill was being discussed”.
Part of the problem arises from the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who is not with us, had to take the Bill through the House as a Defra Minister when it was clearly primarily a DTI Bill. He was the hapless victim of this rather foolish divided responsibility.
The NDA was certainly not the kind of body envisaged by the Select Committee. In their evidence, the two Ministers we have seen—Ian Pearson, whom we saw last January, and Phil Woolas, whom we saw on 11 October this year—sought to defend their proposals against some pretty powerful advocacy, if I may say so, from members of the committee who know much more about the subject than I do, such as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, who I am sorry is not able to be with us today. I remain wholly unconvinced by what they are now proposing.
What has happened to the clear proposal, appropriate to a really long-term policy, of there being in every Parliament—not every Session—a full debate in both Houses with a Motion to endorse the process going forward? I have put that to successive witnesses. The chairman of CoRWM said that, although it was not anything his committee had recommended, he thought it was rather a good idea. I think it is an extremely good idea, and it would be a very important part of the process, but it does not appear to be part of the Government’s thinking on this issue.
Our view that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority may well not be the most appropriate body to take this forward is reinforced by two rather worrying factors. Last February Sir Anthony Cleaver let it be known that he would not seek a further term as chairman of the NDA, and duly vacated that post earlier this year. Despite having nearly nine months’ notice, we still do not have the name of his successor. I put that to the Minister, Mr Woolas, who said, “It’s the Nolan rules that make it very difficult for us to move any faster”. I do not accept that for one moment. I suspect that the difficulty is that, with the confused responsibilities that are inherent in the Government’s structure, Ministers are finding it difficult to find a suitably qualified person to apply for the job. In the mean time the NDA, which is going to have to be responsible for this very long-term policy, has no chairman.
The second worrying factor is that the NDA recently announced a major hiccup in its decommissioning programme. It has divided the decommissioning sites into two groups, a north sector and a south sector. I am told—I have checked this again this morning—that while tenders for the site licences in the north, which include Sellafield, Calder Hall, Capenhurst and eventually Windscale, are at what the NDA calls the “competitive dialogue” stage, the invitations to tender for the southern Magnox sites, which include Sizewell A, Dungeness A, Bradwell and several others, are being held back. Why is that being done? The NDA explained in a statement at the beginning of this month:
“Before proceeding with the remaining elements of the competition schedule the NDA is taking the opportunity to reflect on feedback from its ongoing market engagement activity and is reviewing this with Government”.
When we debated those clauses of what is now the Energy Act 1994, we had long, questioning debates about the competitive process to appoint the site licensees to be responsible for decommissioning. Here we are, only a few years later, and the NDA states that it does not know how to do it and has to reflect on the lessons. That does not engender confidence in the process which the Government are producing.
It has been suggested to me by a knowledgeable source that the real reason is that the NDA is not being allowed by the Treasury to offer terms of engagement which are attractive enough to secure potential bidders for the process. It undermines confidence in the NDA’s ability to run even its own original remit, let alone to take on the much greater responsibility of dealing with long-term waste. I hope that the Minister, whom I warned that I would raise these points, will offer the House reasons for such a long delay in appointing a new chairman for the NDA and for the NDA’s having to withdraw the southern sector from the decommissioning process.
The noble Lord, Lord May, spoke about the interesting distinction that has been drawn between “legacy” waste and new waste. We pressed our witnesses on this matter, because, as he said, it does not seem to make any sense. We received an interesting and revealing answer from a member of CoRWM, Mr Peter Wilkinson, who said at page 10 of the minutes of evidence:
“If you want to maintain the inclusivity of the debate and if you want to ensure as much collaboration and consensual discussion as possible, we have to limit it to the legacy waste. There is a divide in people’s minds, certainly in the NGO fraternity and I think in other stakeholders’ minds as well. There is a clear distinction between legacy waste and other waste that might arise from a new build programme”.
In all simplicity, that means that CoRWM decided to go only for legacy waste in order to keep Greenpeace onside. As the noble Lord, Lord May, said, it makes no sense whatever. At least one member of CoRWM recognised that. Professor Lynda Warren said:
“At the end of the day, I find it personally difficult in my own mind to envisage that there will be a repository here for the existing waste and another one being built over there for new waste”.
So, again, I put the question to the Government: do they envisage that the process of inviting volunteer communities will apply not only to legacy waste but to the new waste that might arise from any new nuclear programme? Will that be made clear to the volunteer communities from the outset when the invitations are sent out?
Last week, the Financial Times carried on its front page an article headed, “Threats to nuclear building schedule”. Its journalist claims to have seen a “script” of a report from John Hutton, the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to the Prime Minister. The article suggests, among other things:
“Problems on the disposal of nuclear waste are also threatening delays. The document suggests that the Treasury is resisting plans to invite councils to bid for the right to house the waste because it fears that only one council—the one that includes Sellafield in Cumbria—will apply. This lack of competition would leave it able to demand extra funding of more than £1bn”.
Is it really true that the Treasury is now calling into question the volunteer principle, which was the one genuine innovative proposal put forward in the CoRWM report? If that is true, I regard it as very bad news indeed.
We know enough about nuclear waste to know that there is no technical problem. Deep burial, retrievable in a deep depository in a stable rock foundation, was proposed by the industry more than 20 years ago; it was envisaged by Nirex 10 years ago; it was recommended by the Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, eight years ago; it was confirmed by CoRWM one year ago; and it is being put into practice in both Sweden and Finland as we speak. The problem is not technical, it is political, and the sooner the politicians stop shilly-shallying and get on with it, the better.
My Lords, as has been said, the first inquiry by the Select Committee on Science and Technology was published in March 1999—eight and a half years ago. In the subsequent years, Government have shown a mixture of procrastination, indecision and, most importantly, a failure to grasp the nature of the problem which has been the subject of subsequent committee reports and government responses, leading to the chaotic situation that is the subject of today’s debate.
The problem involves timescales that have no precedent. We are dealing not with decades and not with centuries but with millennia. It surely follows that the solution has to be of a form that will survive the hazards imposed by peripatetic Ministers and civil servants, changed Governments and the inevitable challenges imposed by societal changes in the timescale involved. There has been no sign in their various consultation papers that Government recognise these problems or, indeed, have made any effort to address them.
The 1999 report recognised the need for widespread consultation and was quickly followed by a “citizens jury” organised by UK CEED later in the same year. A number of randomly selected volunteers with widely differing backgrounds met at weekends over a period of several months to examine evidence from parties chosen by them. They presented their findings in public and by doing so they demonstrated a sense of purpose and commitment wholly lacking in government actions over recent years.
Crucially lacking is any proposal by the Government to provide a credible mechanism for managing the project. Such a mechanism surely requires a clear separation from the everyday organisation of government if it is to command the public trust and organisational independence which are central to the task.
The 1999 report endeavoured to meet those requirements by recommending the creation of a body reporting annually to Parliament and enjoying statutory independence. It also envisaged that the body would be responsible for public consultations at national and local levels. The public would thereby have seen an independent organisation, responsible to Parliament with a long-term continuity appropriate to the unique task entrusted to it.
Instead, the task of nuclear waste management on the timescale I have described has been grafted on to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. This has been accompanied by a network of government committees which was appropriately described by one of our colleagues as “an alphabet soup”. The NDA has a large and important task already but there is no clear explanation of why it has been chosen for this additional one, and I have been unable to identify any rationale for the decision, which involved the transfer of Nirex to the NDA.
I intend no criticism of the NDA, which seems to be discharging its decommissioning responsibilities reasonably competently. But there is a huge difference in technology, timescale and responsibility between that task and nuclear waste management, which surely calls for a separate body. Indeed, the combination of decommissioning with long-term storage facilities offers the prospect of internal confusion and competition for attention and funds, which would be highly undesirable in that body. The Government may argue that the new CoRWM will be staffed in such a way as to provide adequate oversight of the performance of that part of the NDA responsible for long-term management; I have grave doubts about that.
I have had extensive experience of Governments failing to take a long-term view when political expediencies intervene. I have suffered my share of arm-twisting and derived much strength from the arm’s-length relationship that I enjoyed with successive Governments, which limited their ability to influence my actions at will. That was prevented by the requirement that the power of a Minister to intervene was limited by the need for him to give and publish a written direction. In all my experience of the electricity supply industry, I never met a Minister who was prepared to use that power and, of course, to face the ensuing consequences. Such road blocks are necessary to frustrate ministerial dalliances, and never more so than in this case.
It is depressingly clear from the present proposals that policy and crucial decisions will emanate from a network of interdepartmental committees, and it seems inevitable that a herd of camels will emerge from their compromise conclusions. That would be a recipe for delay, increased costs and, most importantly, a loss of public confidence, which ought not to be contemplated.
It may well be argued that the complexity of the proposals stems from the complexity of national government organisation and also from the added complexities of devolution. My reply would be that those undoubted problems reinforce my arguments and should nullify the proposed arrangements. The long-term provision for nuclear waste is too important and sensitive a problem to be subjected to endless correspondence and hidden trade-offs. Here, surely, is a case for political leaders to recognise the over-riding necessity for a clear and simple executive responsibility with equally clear accountability. None of those objectives will, in my judgment, be met by the government proposals.
I deeply hope that the Government will accept the need for a fundamental change in their proposed arrangements. The problem is not new; it was explored in our 1999 report, and a solution on the lines that I have described was put forward. We must approach a new and unprecedented problem with some original thinking and action if the task is to be satisfactorily discharged and the trust of the public maintained.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the report. Indeed, it seems to be an almost biennial report. I see from the notes that the first was in 1998-99, the second was in 2001-02, the fifth report was in 2003-04 and this is for 2006-07. I welcome the report, recognising that we will all be back here again in 2008-09 or 2009-10 looking at the same issue.
It is an excellent report, and the Clerk is to be commended for making such a dry subject readable. I have one issue, which is a housekeeping point. I wish that in Science and Technology Committee reports, acronyms were listed at the front. There are rather a few acronyms in here. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has noted that he has problems with the NDA; when I started to read the report I forgot that it meant the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and I read it in the business sense of a non-disclosure agreement, which is an unfortunate linkage between the two bodies.
On these Benches, we have always been anti-nuclear. The noble Lord, Lord Tombs, who I seem to follow regularly in these debates, will be happy to know that we have not changed our position on that.
My Lords, I am on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but I have never said that we are unanimous on this subject. As on many other issues, we welcome a plethora of opinions within the party. However, party policy is quite clear: we are anti-nuclear, mainly because of nuclear waste, but also because of the cost of nuclear development.
The report talks about radioactive waste management rather than a radioactive waste solution. Of course, there is no solution to radioactive waste, even though the nuclear industry has done an amazing, even commendable, PR job, giving the impression that, if you walk anywhere near a wind turbine, you will suddenly drop dead as your sensibilities are offended by its aesthetic qualities, whereas a nuclear reactor could be seen as a tourist destination.
However, being against new build does not mean that we will not face the increasingly big legacy issue of radioactive waste from past processes. Not all this waste comes from the production of electricity; a vast quantity comes from the military and a fair degree comes from medical processes. I accept that there has been a uniformity of opinion in this House that deep storage is probably the only solution—whether that storage is sealed or open is a debate for another time. The problem that I foresee is that, as the report clearly shows, there does not seem to be any haste in getting to this point. The noble Lord, Lord May, talked about the French moving towards deep storage. However, even though they have talked about it and have good processes, they have not started constructing their facilities.
I find this worrying. It is a very difficult situation, which has to be dealt with on a local basis—I am talking about local communities and all the opposition that will arise. The academic argument about deep storage should rest on the geological formation underneath the landscape to be chosen, but short-term political considerations will no doubt influence decisions on what should be a repository that lasts hundreds of thousands of years.
Do the Government have in mind a specific timescale for the repository? We have talked about this subject many times and it seems incredible that there is no start date. On page 5 of their response, the Government say of recommendation 4:
“Government will be presenting proposals for a phased site selection process in its consultation document. It is acknowledged that this process will take years. There has never been any suggestion that it will take three or four months”.
I am particularly worried that no indication is given of how many years; the Government just say “years”.
This is underlined by the almost labyrinthine structure that underpins any management decision. I know that the problem is historical and that there has been a massive amount of cross-departmental responsibility for the issue, whether on the part of the DTI, now DBERR—or “DEBRIS”—or on the part of Defra. One of the recommendations is to try to make the situation as clear as possible, but I am sure that the Minister will agree that that process has not yet been concluded. Some haste is needed on this.
Two issues should not be underestimated. When one of the NGOs ran a viral campaign on the internet against nuclear power, it showed people holidaying on a beach looking up and seeing a jumbo jet being aimed at the nuclear power station next to them. Having looked into this matter, I know that it is quite possible that many nuclear power stations would survive a direct hit from a jumbo jet. That is heartening. However, the nuclear waste storage facilities are soft targets, which would not survive such an attack. This has been discussed openly, including on Radio 4 the other day, so it is not a national secret.
The other issue is decay. The longer we keep these sites open, the harder it is to keep up the management styles, and the cost of keeping the facilities running to the required standard is very high. We have only to look at the environmental catastrophes that have taken place at the reprocessing plants in Russia and in areas dealing with decommissioning to see what could happen if we let the sites decay.
When do the Government foresee the first amount of money being paid for a deep-level repository? So many processes are involved, as set out in the report, that this issue could last for decades, and it is very likely that we will be having this discussion in many debates to come, which is unfortunate. I very much hope that the Government grasp the nettle and go for deep geological storage, and I hope that they do so not over a period of years but that they set a timetable and work to it.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Selborne for tabling this Motion. The report is a robustly critical analysis of the Government’s proposals. The safe management of radioactive waste is indeed a very important issue, and I am pleased that my noble friend has brought the attention of your Lordships’ House to the report and given us the opportunity to debate it and the Government’s position.
I also express my thanks to the members of the Science and Technology Committee for their excellent work in compiling an incisive and thorough report. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for his dedication and hard work in chairing the committee, many of whose members have contributed to the debate today. It is one of the great virtues of this House that we can profit from the vast collective experience of noble Lords.
It may be a commonplace but, as a newcomer to parliamentary politics, I regret that political debate frequently lacks the rigorous analysis that the scientific mindset brings to issues such as this. It was CP Snow, later to become a Member of this House, who first drew attention to what he called the “two cultures”. It is saddening to see that in general public discourse, outside a debate such as this, these two cultures still exist. Therefore, science and technology, through the work of the committee, should be taken up and debated seriously. These occasions are important and the House should take advantage of them, perhaps if only to encourage the others.
It is appropriate that the procedure of the House requires this Motion to “take note” of the report, as that is precisely what the Government do not seem to be doing. We on these Benches feel that Her Majesty’s Government need to take on board the message of the report, rethinking and redirecting their proposals for dealing with radioactive waste to reflect more closely the committee’s recommendations.
As has been said by almost all speakers, there is a long history to this topic and continuity in the advice that the committee has given Government. My noble friend Lord Jenkin and the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, reminded us of the detail of this. Since March 1997, government policy on the long-term management of many types of radioactive waste has been uncertain. The majority of radioactive waste is now stored and awaiting a long-term solution to disposal. In fact, more than 10,000 tonnes are currently in store, and the reprocessing of spent fuel and the clean-up operation from existing nuclear plants are expected to add another 0.5 million tonnes. Those figures assume that there is no new nuclear build—surely not a likely scenario.
Clearly, doing nothing is not an option: the problem needs to be addressed. Ten years is long enough to have procrastinated on this issue. After all, the fundamentals of the matter have not changed; they remain the same as they were 10 years ago. CoRWM published its final recommendations and report about a long-term disposal option for higher-level radioactive waste on 31 July last year. One of the primary recommendations, which we on these Benches firmly support, is that deep geological disposal is the best long-term solution to the problem of dealing with radioactive waste.
In the interim, however, we need to ensure that waste is handled safely, and in a way that is sensitive to local community concerns, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reminded us. For those reasons, the committee produced a package set of interdependent recommendations, including not only long-term plans for deep geological disposal but plans for robust interim storage. Those were to be based on an equal partnership between government and potential host communities indicating a willingness to participate. The plan required the immediate creation of an overview body to begin the process of implementation.
It is important to note that these proposals from CoRWM are designed as a package; to be all of a piece. The report and this debate have shown that noble Lords share the concern that Her Majesty’s Government have “watered down” CoRWM’s recommendations. In the light of this, does the Minister agree that the Government’s proposals need to be reconsidered and perhaps follow CoRWM’s recommendations more closely?
The Government have accepted the use of geological disposal, which I welcome. However they currently propose merely to set up an advisory group, rather than a truly independent overseeing body. Considering the importance of disposing of such dangerous materials, a mere advisory group is entirely unsatisfactory. This material must be seen to be handled safely. The process must demonstrate a true partnership between the Government and local communities. Government must ensure that authority is vested in such a body in a way that is apolitical and yet open to parliamentary scrutiny. It also needs to be empowered with the executive responsibility to provide for the interim storage and long-term disposal of radioactive waste. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, in a very interesting contribution, informed the House of the way in which new technology is emerging on an international scale.
The committee’s report is clear that it wants the Government to rethink their proposals on the new CoRWM and to come up with proposals for an entirely independent accountable body for overseeing the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely—MRWS—programme. Have the Government heeded this advice, and are they reconsidering their own proposals? The recommendation that the overview body be independent is important. The Government appear to prefer that responsibility for planning, implementing and managing the waste disposal process will be given to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority rather than to a new independent body. If no new independent body can be guaranteed, we on these Benches need to see proof that the NDA will not only act, but be seen to act, with complete impartiality. Is the Minister prepared to give such a guarantee?
There are other concerns about independence. The committee states that the Energy Act 2004 should be amended to reflect the changing nature of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s responsibilities. How will the proposals in the forthcoming Energy Bill, to allow private sector investment into nuclear power stations, impact on the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme and the role of the NDA?
The real problem is that this is yet another example of the Government cherry picking suggestions without serious thought about the bigger picture. The magnitude of the problem of nuclear waste is common territory. Is the Minister willing to reconsider the Government’s proposals for a mere advisory board?
The noble Lord, Lord May, emphasised how important an independent body is to provide continuity, and through its accountability to Parliament, the authority to fulfil its role. The importance of this is not to be underestimated. The Government’s proposals lack clear lines of accountability, as has been duly noted by Science and Technology Committee. It especially expressed concern that the Government should acknowledge the potential for conflict and confusion which could be associated with their proposed institutional arrangements for the MWRS programme. Is the Minister willing to admit these potentials for conflict and assure the House that steps are being taken to ensure clear lines of accountability?
My final point regards the process for site selection. According to the committee, the Government's proposed timescale of four months will not be adequate to follow the recommendation of a phased site-selection process to screen out unsuitable areas. If the Minister does not agree, why not?
It is dismaying to see yet another half-hearted government attempt to deal with a problem with such potentially dangerous consequences. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has exposed the Treasury dabs on this issue, as on so many. A weak department of state is no match for Treasury interference and short-termism. I hesitate to call the Minister irresolute, but his department’s proposals certainly are. They suggest just the sort of ineffective management which has bedevilled Defra. They show an unwillingness to vest responsibility with clear and impartial authority, and provide too many opportunities for bureaucratic bungling—fears which have laid behind many contributions to this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, the complicated lines of responsibility can lead to confusion and muddle. As the report and the contributions to this debate have made clear, a strong and independent body should be backed. We should back expertise. Where is the hang up?
The onus is on the Government to justify their position. To assist this process, I and others have asked the Minister many questions which I hope he can answer—if not today, then at least in writing to us afterwards. Meanwhile, the committee should be thanked for its work and my noble friend Lord Selborne thanked for bringing to debate the Motion to take note of its report. I sincerely hope that this is precisely what the Government will do, as their response seems to suggest that up to now they have done so with only one ear open.
My Lords, to reiterate the last point of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, I am grateful to the noble Earl for bringing the committee’s report before the House. We are not stuck for time; I will not fill all of it, but I am determined to put as many answers on the record as I can. Having listened to the speeches, I think it would be best to use my prepared notes first and then move to the individual answers rather than the other way around. There is a reason for that.
First—I am not going to argue the toss on this—the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was looking for examples of other types of organisations; she used the British Library and the National Archives. I agree: this is unique. We do not need to look for other examples; we just get on with it. This is not about decades but about millennia. Let us not use any arguments of procrastination.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman gave away the reason why this has taken so long: so many people have been determined not to find a solution to the waste as a means of stopping any discussion of new build. I have heard those points made by members of various committees in the past 10 years. You cannot have a civilised, organised, professional debate at two levels. First, you do not want to discuss the waste because you might find a solution and, if you do, that knocks on the head any arguments about possible new build to cope with climate change. This is a complicated argument—
My Lords, the Minister suggested that the Liberal Democrats—or any opposition body—in their opposition to new build, have somehow withheld the geological storage. That storage has not been held up by such opposition; it has been held up for a large number of other reasons.
My Lords, in that respect, I was not referring to the Lib Dems. There are plenty of other people who are anti-nuclear—and that is the end of the argument for them—who say, “You can’t deal with the waste”. When someone comes along to try to deal with the waste, their argument is undermined because then they have to get involved in whether it will work and help with the problem of climate change. We are therefore dealing with the issue on two levels.
With due respect, the Government’s response to the committee, and some of their other actions, have not been fully examined. I will give one example off the top of my head on an issue that was raised a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. The Government made clear in their response that yes, they will consider amending the Energy Act to take account of the new remit of the NDA. They say that in their response, but in today’s debate no one conceded the point.
That is not cherry picking—I have taken just one example and I will come to others. I do not want to have an argument with the House because I am on the side of everyone who has spoken in the debate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. This point was pressed on both Mr Pearson and Mr Woolas. We did not receive from either of them as definite an answer as we appear to be getting from the noble Lord. Is he now saying that yes, the Energy Bill will in this respect amend the 2004 Act?
My Lords, no, I did not say that. One day last week I read the whole transcript of the 11 October committee hearing with Phil Woolas, but I freely admit that I have not read the evidence of Ian Pearson. No, I am simply looking at recommendation 6 of the Government’s response in respect of amending the Energy Act. A sentence in the middle states:
“However, taking account of the Committee’s comments, Government will give consideration to any needs for amendment of the Energy Act 2004, or appropriate ministerial direction to the NDA, as its work proceeds”.
I know that that is only one sentence and that there are others around it and that it refers to this being an issue for the longer term. However, the Government have conceded that the Energy Act may well need amending to take account of the extra remit of the NDA. The other point that I shall come to during my speech is the role of the chair of the NDA. That role was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin—he made the most of it and there is something to be made much of. I shall go through my set-piece notes and then attempt to answer the questions. This is an important issue to which the House will return on many occasions.
We value the scrutiny and believe that the Government have drawn on the comments raised by members of the committee throughout the process. Between January this year, when my ministerial colleague appeared before the committee, and June when we launched the consultation, Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal, the process for the managing of radioactive waste safely has progressed significantly. We agree with the committee’s report that a steady and measured approach to the process is essential, particularly when we begin to engage with potential host communities. As the committee has urged in the past, we want to maintain the momentum.
There has been a complaint. It has been made here again today but no one used the word “dithering”. I will use that word: it is suggested that there has been dithering and procrastination, but then we are told, “Hang on, don’t go too fast now”. That was also said here today. There must be a balance in dealing with potential communities. The consultation launched on 25 June this year sets out the key areas of the technical programme and aspects of disposal facility design; the role of regulators and the planning system in protecting people in the environment; and site selection using a voluntarism and partnership approach.
A number of recommendations in the committee’s report address the institutional arrangements and the Government have consistently stated their belief that the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of the organisations involved in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme must be clear.
In our response to the committee’s report, and taking account of the committee’s comments on “alphabet soup”, we have sought to distinguish between the main players and their responsibilities and bodies that essentially provide internal communications channels between the main players. The Government will set the policy and take final decisions and the Government, through Ministers, will be fully accountably to this House and another place. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will be a strong, effective implementing organisation. The regulators will ensure that the process is safe through robust, independent regulation. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM—will provide independent scrutiny and advice on the programmes and plans. Local communities in this country that are potentially interested in hosting a geological disposal facility will work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and others in a partnership approach. Local government, which will be fully engaged in the partnership approach, will play its part in decision-making and the operation of the planning system.
Much has been made of the issues of oversight and scrutiny that are fundamental to getting the confidence of the public and the industry. There has also been discussion around the suggestion for,
“a single independent body with responsibility for overseeing the entire programme, scrutinising and holding key players to account on behalf of Parliament and the public”.
There is a need for clear responsibility and accountability is key. I fully accept that we are not talking about years or decades; we are going way beyond that into a different kind of society that is difficult to imagine. It is the legacy we are leaving future generations. It is fundamental. Governments come and go. Phil Woolas said that he worked out that the average tenure as Minister for the Environment is shorter than that of a local authority chief executive. This is another issue: we need continuity as well as scrutiny and accountability.
As the Secretary of State set out in his Statement to Parliament on 25 October 2006, allocating responsibility for securing geological disposal of higher activity waste to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority creates one organisation able to take a strategic view of all stages of the waste management chain for all wastes. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that I have addressed this issue in the 20 months that I have been at Defra, other than maybe repeating that Statement. I believe that there should be frequent debates on this. It is possible for people to make sure that there are frequent debates on this. If the Government are reluctant, they can soon be brought to the Dispatch Box in both Houses.
A comprehensive strategy for UK radioactive waste management was suggested by the committee in its 1999 report. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has been charged, in effect, with the development of a comprehensive strategy. The authority is subject to statutory safety, environmental protection and security obligations under the Energy Act 2004, as Members of this House who were involved in the passage of that Act will know far better than I. The Act provides for the authority to develop and operate disposal facilities.
Given the authority’s status as a non-departmental public body, sponsoring Ministers are ultimately accountable to Parliament for their activities, and the Energy Act 2004 includes a specific requirement for copies of the authority’s accounts, including its state of affairs, to be laid before Parliament. The Energy Act 2004 provides the necessary stability for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, but we have listened carefully to the comments from the Science and Technology Committee and others on the draft terms of reference for the reconstituted, independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management and have substantially beefed up the final document and, with respect, I do not think that sufficient credit has been given to that in this debate. The meanings of oversight, scrutiny and advice are difficult to unravel, and I accept that we need to have a clear focus, but we need to understand the difference. Scrutiny is rather more than just asking a few questions. We believe that CoRWM cannot be a further body that assumes any of the constitutional roles of government, the statutory role of the NDA as implementer or the role of the independent regulators who oversee the process without blurring of those executive responsibilities and accountabilities. I accept that it is excessively complicated. If it were simple it would have been dealt with years ago. Even the independent regulators can be brought before Parliament and Select Committees.
CoRWM could not be part of the implementation machinery and still maintain its independent scrutiny position. However, the revised terms of reference have given the committee teeth. It requires the committee to test the evidence base for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s plans. Not only will CoRWM’s advice be delivered to Government, it will be made available to Parliament along with the Government’s response. Additionally, parliamentary committees will have the opportunity to engage directly with CoRWM and may propose work for inclusion in the committee’s work programme to sponsoring Ministers.
Turning to the appointment of the reconstituted CoRWM, we committed to strengthening the scientific, technological and social science expertise as the Science and Technology Committee advocated. The learned societies, as well as the Science and Technology Committee, were invited to draw the advertisements to the attention of those who could have been suitable members. As well as ensuring that the right mix of skills and expertise were sought, a representative of Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser advised the appointments panel on the relevance of the science behind the applications.
On 25 October—last Thursday—we announced the new committee. We are confident that it has the strengthened scientific and technical make-up and that it will continue the high standards of evidence-based advice, founded on openness, transparency and engagement, set by its predecessor. Furthermore, our commitment to appointing the best possible committee means that in two specific scientific and technological skills areas—hydrogeology and mining—we will be readvertising to ensure we get the right members for the roles. In other words, they didn’t come first time round.
On the site selection and geological criteria, the report of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House also asked for clarity on our approach to site selection. Our approach will be based on seeking voluntarism and partnership arrangements with potential host communities as a first step. There is no particular “best” site. I have not seen any paperwork in the department—I have not seen everything on this; it is not my day job obviously—or heard any discussions in the department on any list of potential sites. But rather we are seeking to identify one that is fit for purpose, taking into account all aspects of safety and containment, and that has a willing host community.
The criteria for the initial screening stage of site assessment were derived by two panels of national experts, recruited on the basis of recommendation from the learned societies and the Defra Chief Scientific Adviser. The criteria do not by their nature lend themselves to application, in advance, in every part of the UK, and doing so would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. This is a three-dimensional, as opposed to a two-dimensional, issue.
Rather, communities with a potential interest will be able to request the British Geological Survey to apply the criteria set out in annexe B of the consultation, consistently to the geographical areas in question. This will be done in an open and transparent fashion. It will eliminate areas that are obviously unsuitable at the outset and so avoid further unnecessary work. The Government will of course pay for the British Geological Survey screening work.
Thereafter, there will be phased and progressively more detailed investigations of the geological, environmental and social suitability of a site for hosting a geological disposal facility. The proposed criteria on which these investigations and assessments are based are set out in the consultation document and views on these are invited.
The Managing Radioactive Waste Safely consultation closes at the end of this week—on 2 November. We are looking for a broad range of responses from a variety of organisations. My experience of consultations in Government is that they nearly all arrive on the last day or the day before, so it is no good anybody asking me about what has happened up to the present time; I have no information. Current thinking is that the outcome will be the basis for a White Paper policy statement during the first half of 2008—next year. This will potentially be accompanied by an invitation for communities to acknowledge an initial interest in opening up without-prejudice discussions.
Between now and that point, Government will look to work with bodies such as NuLEAF, the local authority nuclear legacy organisation, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the reconstituted CoRWM to produce additional information material to support the issue of an invitation. An invitation to local communities to open up discussions would signal the beginning of stage 4 of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme, that is the commencement and delivery of the implementation programme, during the course of 2008.
That was a set-piece speech, written before I had heard a word of the debate, but it answers some of the questions, not least when we are going to start. I shall deal with as many of the points raised as I can. I shall try to take them in order, but if I get the order wrong, I apologise. Some issues were raised by many noble Lords. For clarity, if I can link them, I will.
My noble friend Lord Hunt raised points about research and said that we needed to be more involved nationally. I think that his message to the Government was to get in there, get involved in the debate and get with it, with the implication that we were somewhat standing aside or not coming to the table as quickly as we should. In respect of skills in the nuclear industry, which he raised, universities are already responding with new courses, while the industry, with the skill sector council, is taking forward a skills academy that will both increase apprentice and technical training and radically increase upskilling of existing workers. Across government, we are working on the foundations of science, engineering and technology in schools and higher education with employers with the sector skills. They are coming together to develop a strategic approach and we will work to support and encourage that.
My noble friend also asked whether we are confident that geological disposal is technically achievable. It is internationally recognised as the best option. There will be work to do. The Government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will keep alternative options, such as borehole disposal of certain types of waste, under review. Research into alternative methods of dealing with waste is also part of the authority's remit, especially with regard to the applications of waste management hierarchy. The cost implications of the various options explored will be estimated by the authority as part of its work programme. We believe that there is sufficient research work and international experience available to be confident that geological disposal is technically achievable. As I said, we are not inventing the wheel here, because others are involved as well.
CoRWM considered the issues of transmutation, which had also been considered by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. The technology is speculative and would not deal with our current large quantities of legacy waste.
No one has mentioned the amount of legacy waste. I know that most people in the Chamber are experts on this, but I think that it is worth putting on record. We are dealing with three categories of waste, as is well known: high-level waste, intermediate waste and low-level waste. CoRWM’s estimate of the volume by 2120, which is what we are dealing with, is 477,000 cubic metres. That is the five Albert Halls that we have constantly read about. That is a considerable volume. Of that, less than 0.3 per cent is high-level waste. There is an enormous amount of intermediate and low-level waste. So we are dealing with a considerable amount. There would of course be an increase if there were any new build, but this would be over a very long period. The idea that one can simply deal with legacy waste and not even talk about new build does not really add any weight to the argument. Indeed, one would be laughed at, because if there is a programme for dealing with legacy waste on this scale over the decades that we have talked about, it must take account of any potential waste from new build.
I hope that I have answered the point made by many people, including the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the statutory body being answerable to Parliament. There is no easy solution to this. It is complicated, as I set out in my formal speech. It would not be possible for one authority to do the lot. Parliaments do not last very long; Ministers last for even less time. Civil servants last a lot longer, but we must have bodies that are accountable to Parliament. There must be proper scrutiny. That can be done best if everything is open and transparent.
Just before I came into the Chamber, I asked my officials whether I could hold up this report and all the other reports and say, “We will never, ever take any decisions on this behind closed doors without telling anyone”. The instant answer was yes. That is what I would expect. The fact is that, if it is done openly and transparently, elections, different Parliaments and Ministers coming and going, as it is well known they do, should not affect the stability of public confidence in the industry if it is known that there is a long-term plan that has been properly scrutinised and is fully and regularly accountable to Parliament. I fully accept that it is not an easy answer to say that we have a new body that will do it all and last for ever. One then asks who will appoint the people to that body in, say, 20 years when some retire and a new Government come in. There must be processes for that. We have processes for appointing such bodies, Ministers, Select Committees and non-departmental public bodies. I will come to the point about the chair of the NDA in a moment; it is a separate issue, in some respects. There is no simple solution. What we will be dealing with will be necessarily complex.
I do not have an answer in the many notes that I have to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about security and the note that she read out. I will say, however, that it is a long-term problem. It has, of course, been consulted on, and we have a consultation at the end of the week. The noble Lord, Lord May, talked about strengthening CoRWM. The Government did strengthen it following the committee’s report, as set out in the revised terms of reference. As I said, the names of all the members, expect two new ones, were published in a press release last Thursday.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked me about costs before 2020, when construction begins. One thing is for sure; the costs are complicated. I will have to write to her separately on that. She is quite right that to parliamentarians “interim” usually means a couple of years or perhaps several months, but that, in this case, “interim” could be a couple of decades. In response to CoRWM’s recommendations, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is reviewing the adequacy of its planned and regulated interim storage programme to ensure the sufficiency and longevity of captivity. The result of this review will be published in the next update of the NDA strategy, which is due in 2008. Its strategy will be subject to public consultation and the agreement of the Government. The existing stores for packaged waste are designed to provide a life service of 50 to 100 years or more. The NDA’s current view is that the service life of these stores can be extended as required to provide longevity sufficient to meet the prolonged repository development programme. New stores are planned on NDA’s sites, and will have potential design lives of 100 years or more, subject to meeting the regulatory safety and security arrangements.
Security is an extremely fair and, in some ways, very obvious issue to raise. It is certainly not the case that the current security arrangements for nuclear waste are inadequate. The UK’s civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures, which are regulated by the security regulator, the Office for Civil Nuclear Security. This office works closely with the Health and Safety Executive, the safety regulator that provides advice on safety implications and events, including external hazards such as plane crashes at nuclear installations. Civil nuclear operators must have site security plans dealing with security arrangements for the protection of nuclear sites and nuclear material on such sites. These arrangements cover, for example, physical protection such as fencing, CCTV, turnstile access, the role of security guards, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the protection of proliferation-sensitive data and technologies, and the trustworthiness of individuals who have access to them. Security at nuclear sites is kept under regular review in the light of the prevailing threat and has been significantly enhanced since the terrorist attacks in the United States of America on 11 September 2001. It is not our policy, of course, to disclose the particular details of those.
I have been told that I have two minutes, but I will finish answering the questions asked in this debate. I did say I would not take more than half an hour and I am taking too long.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about tendering on the Magnox South sector. He said that it would undermine confidence in the capacity of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. One of the fundamental reasons for setting up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was to establish a competitive market in order to help drive innovation and efficiency. In order to optimise the process and ensure that we have the best possible timing and scope of competitions to attract the highest quality bidding teams, the authority and the Government will always consider any lessons learnt and review the best way forward. Feedback from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s ongoing market engagement activity around the Magnox South bundle identified issues around the sequencing, scope and timing of remaining competitions. As a result, the authority chose to hold back issuing the prequalification questionnaire. This pause in the competition process will enable the authority and the Government to consider any lessons to be learnt before proceeding with the remaining elements. There is an ongoing issue there.
The noble Lord also asked about the chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. There is currently an interim chair. By any stretch of the imagination, that is not to criticise the person concerned. The noble Lord rightly said that in February the then chairman gave notice and we have had nine months since then. Before I knew that I was dealing with this debate, some months ago I saw an advert for the chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. I am not buck-passing because I am answering for the Government, but once the new Session starts, I invite noble Lords to make sure that they get my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham to the Dispatch Box as the Minister for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Minister, because the issue is very much one for that department.
The post was not filled following the advertisement in June or July. Noble Lords may be unaware of this, but nobody mentioned it in the debate: the post was readvertised just over a week ago at more than double the salary offered in the summer. I presume that that is because—this is not a criticism—they could not get anyone good enough for the job. I do not know why there is a delay and neither does my department, but the closing date for applications—in case any noble Lord knows anyone who is of special quality—is 12 noon on Monday 19 November. This issue is being dealt with, but I cannot explain all the reasons for the delay. I invite noble Lords to table questions, because that is the department dealing with the matter.
I do not want to be too brief in answering the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, given his vast experience. He is quite right, I accepted in my opening remarks that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s work will take many decades. It has been set up by statute for that purpose. We are willing to look at amendments to the Energy Act 2004 if necessary.
I have already covered the issues of accountability and responsibility. Ministers at this Dispatch Box will come and go. I will not be the last Minister to answer questions about this issue, far from it; there will be others over the years. They will have to come to the Dispatch Box annually. That is self-evident. The committees of this House and the other place can do that, even if the Government were unwilling, which we are not. We are more than willing to debate the White Paper next year once we have produced our plans. Obviously that will be a matter for public statement and a debate.
The problem of confusion was raised. If there is clarity once the work starts about who is responsible for setting policy, for executing it, and for checking on the people actually doing the work—the regulators and scrutineers—I think we can overcome many of the doubts that have been expressed over the years. That was fully explained in the consultation document and I hope that members of the committee and other noble Lords will appreciate that the Government have thought about this and have taken on board many lessons from the committee’s work.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked how long it would take to plan and build the facility. It is true that the timing is uncertain, but the consultation document reflects an estimate of 20 to 30 years until the first waste replacement. In practice we shall look to proceed as swiftly as we can, commensurate with all the caveats I set out earlier in my speech. Whether there is to be any new nuclear build is currently the subject of a consultation, the responsibility for which does not lie with my department. I do not seek to avoid it, but my personal view—I always speak for the Government at this Dispatch Box unless I am speaking for myself—is that we need a mix of energy supply and we need security. I am not in favour of putting all our eggs in one basket, especially with politically unstable countries. It is as simple as that. That was my view when I was at the ODPM and we discussed this issue in terms of planning.
Some people say that they do not even want windmills, and there is a row over whether to build a Severn barrage. There will always be arguments about renewables. There will also be arguments about clean coal technology, and here I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We are trying to sell that technology to the Chinese, who are opening up a coal-fired power station every week. If it is clean coal technology, fine. If it is dirty coal, that is not too good. But the Chinese are now waking up to that. So nuclear has to be an option. It provides something like 20 per cent of our energy. I believe that two stations closed on New Year’s Day last year and we lost 1.5 per cent of our capacity, so it is important that it is looked at as an option, and that is what we are consulting on now. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, accepted that, and in turn I accept his challenge that I will be required to come to this Dispatch Box to answer questions much more frequently than has been the case over the 20 months that I have been at Defra.
We have had an incredibly useful debate. I can assure the House that it has been taken on board by officials in my department. I do not say this defensively, but the fact is that the committee has produced a robust report. Members have been very critical about the Government’s response overall, although I hope that I have been able to show that we have amended our proposals in the light of the committee’s discussions. It is true that a central tenet of the committee, one that has been repeated by virtually every member, concerns the need for an independent body that will oversee everything and last for ever, although I am not sure how appointments would be made or renewed. We need a system that will meet the worries behind that demand, and it is one that has to be met and satisfied by the Government. I may not have been able to do that adequately today, but we have a plan and it will be thoroughly scrutinised as the months and years go by.
My Lords, the whole House, and particularly the members of the committee who participated in the preparation of this report, will be grateful to the Minister for his very full and helpful reply. I believe he said that he thought his response might be inadequate, but he should be assured that 36 minutes provided an absolutely excellent response.
I want to reflect one last message from this debate, which I agree has been incredibly useful. If there is to be public confidence in the institutional responsibility for radioactive waste management, which there must be, we need the components of transparency, continuity of management over very long timescales—by which we mean millennia, a long time by anyone’s standards—high-quality science and accountability.
A number of noble Lords said in relation to the existing and evolving proposals for agencies and committees—I recognise that the Government have responded already to some—that if it were possible to simplify and improve accountability, and therefore public acceptability, then clearly such measures should be adopted. I thank everyone who has participated in the debate.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Drugs: Government Consultation Paper
rose to move, That this House takes note of the Government consultation paper, Drugs: Our Community, Your Say.
The noble Lord said: My Lords. In a sense, the Motion does not do justice to an important consultation document, which has been usefully received by people in the great out there. I thank all noble Lords who have stayed behind to join in the general discussion on the consultation paper and the associated consultation exercise that the Government have recently conducted. It says something about the interest in the subject that there are so many speakers at this late stage of the parliamentary year.
The public consultation period ended on 19 October and Ipsos MORI has begun the compilation and analysis of the responses received. Well over 1,100 responses have been received and they are now being earnestly analysed. We are in the period before the drafting of the new strategy takes place and we therefore have an opportunity to consider the often contentious issues which surround this subject.
I shall provide some background to the consultation but perhaps I may first give a short overview of the history and content of the existing drugs strategy. The strategy, which was the Government’s first comprehensive strategy to tackle drug misuse, was launched almost 10 years ago in 1998. Following a review and a number of recommendations made by the Home Affairs Committee, it was fully updated in 2002. The overarching aim is to reduce the harms caused by illegal drugs and, to achieve this outcome, it focuses on four key strands: first, preventing young people taking drugs; secondly, reducing the availability of illegal drugs; thirdly, reducing drug-related crime and its impact upon communities; fourthly, reducing drug use through the provision of treatment and support.
Over that nine years, extraordinary progress has been made in delivering this strategy, with challenging targets often exceeded or achieved early. Through the dedication and concerted action of a range of agencies and departments, we have seen a sustained reduction in drug use and the harms caused by illegal drugs. During the lifetime of the strategy, we have also seen the development of truly innovative programmes, such as the drug interventions programme and Positive Futures, which provides diversionary activities for the young people most vulnerable to developing drug misuse problems.
Tackling drug supply is a key part of our strategy. We have provided law enforcement agencies with the tools to tackle organised criminals and individuals who traffic or supply drugs by introducing the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which allows law enforcement agencies to seize the assets of convicted criminals, and further, under a new scheme which came into effect on 1 April 2006, front-line agencies will get back 50 per cent of the amounts recovered. In addition, the threshold for seizing suspect sums of cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act was reduced from £5,000 to £1,000 in July this year. This new lower threshold gives the police the opportunity to tackle those at the lower end of organised criminal networks and will serve to disrupt individuals involved in organised crime who previously carried smaller amounts of cash to avoid meeting the threshold. Developing crack house closure legislation has led to more than 1,000 premises being closed, according to survey data to be published early next year, giving respite to communities and individuals plagued by crime and anti-social behaviour that can occur near these types of premises.
We have set up SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It has been formed from the amalgamation of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, that part of HM Revenue and Customs dealing with drug trafficking and associated criminal finance and a part of the UK Immigration Service that deals with organised immigration crime. SOCA became operational in 2006. Already, increasing quantities of drugs are being seized and organised crime groups and dealers disrupted. Figures published in SOCA’s annual report for 2006-07 show that more than 74 tonnes of class A drugs were seized in that period, which, if sold on the UK market, would have raised in excess of £3 billion and generated considerable associated acquisitive crime. We will continue to support law enforcement agencies whenever the opportunity is identified.
We can point to further real successes that have been delivered by the strategy. The British Crime Survey data from 2006-07 show that fewer people reported the use of any drug within the past year than at any time since the survey began. Data from the same survey show that drug use among young people is falling; that more people than ever before are accessing high-quality drug treatment; that drug-related crime is falling, as more than 3,000 drug-misusing offenders are entering treatment through the drug intervention programme each month; and that intelligence-based enforcement approaches are targeting the organised criminal groups, where most impact can be made.
We can see where the drug strategy has been successful, but we can also see where more work is needed.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but before he leaves that immediate point, the report says on page 20:
“The overall level of drug-related acquisitive crime for England and Wales has fallen by around 20 per cent”.
Can he give us the basis for that figure? Where does it come from?
My Lords, I will aim to pick up on that question later, but I think the figure is based on research that has been conducted.
As I have said, we can see where the drug strategy has been successful, but we can also see where more work is needed or where we need a change of approach. For example, while we can see that drug-related crime has been driven down, we also recognise that further support needs to be given to help those people stay clean and rebuild their lives so that they do not fall back into drug use and criminality. Drug users with the most severe problems account for around 99 per cent of the costs of drug misuse in England and Wales and do most harm to themselves, their families and communities.
There can be no doubt that the overall costs to society are enormous, but reducing the harms caused by drugs has been one of our top priorities and the benefits of successful engagement with drug treatment services are huge for individuals, their families and the wider community. Over the past 10 years one of the key aims of the national drug strategy has been to improve the availability and effectiveness of drug treatment interventions. We have met the “numbers in treatment” element of our target two years early. On reflection that is a remarkable achievement, but we are not complacent. We have been working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that drug users within the criminal justice system have access to drug treatment services.
The result of that cross-government partnership work is the development of the drug intervention programme, also known as DIP. The programme provides a route out of crime and into treatment. On average, some 3,500 drug-misusing offenders are entering treatment each month. Engaging drug-misusing offenders in treatment has contributed to reductions in drug-related crime. We know that acquisitive crime, to which drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution, has fallen by 23 per cent since the introduction of DIP.
Prison drug treatment funding has increased year on year since 1996-97—up some 997 per cent to £79 million in the current financial year. Prisons now offer a comprehensive treatment framework, consistent with the National Treatment Agency’s revised models of care, to address individual drug users’ needs. Drug users can benefit from clinical services, CARATs and intensive drug rehabilitation programmes, with the treatment interventions supported by mandatory and voluntary drug-testing programmes. The numbers engaged in prison treatment have increased year on year since 1996-97.
To consolidate progress, the rollout of the integrated drug treatment system—IDTS—continues. It is designed to boost the quality and increase the volume of drug treatment with a particular focus on drug users during their first 28 days in custody. By March of next year, full enhanced clinical services and psychosocial support through CARATs will be available in 29 prisons; additionally, enhanced clinical services will be available in a further 24 establishments.
The new drug strategy provides an opportunity for us to build on those successes and improve the treatment framework for those in prison. Prisons are already closely engaged with the drug intervention programme and offender managers to ensure continuity of treatment and wider integrated support requirements are considered on release from prison. We are also looking at how we might improve through-care arrangements and release-planning to ensure a seamless transition from prison to the community.
We are reaching more children and young people than ever before with sophisticated prevention messages. Our tracking of the impact of the FRANK drug awareness campaign has shown a significant shift in young people’s attitudes to cannabis, with 57 per cent of them saying that cannabis would be very likely to damage the mind. That figure is up from 45 per cent one year ago.
Reductions in drug use among young people demonstrate that our cross-departmental young people and drugs programme is having a positive impact through improved targeting of early intervention for those young people most at risk of developing problems with drugs, through the work of youth offending teams, children’s social care services and education support services, and through the provision of specialist substance misuse services for under-18 year-olds, which has been accessed by some 20,000 young people in 2006-07.
While we can see that we are reaching more children and young people than ever before with sophisticated prevention educational messages, it is also clear that more needs to be done to target the young people who are the most likely to develop problems with drug misuse. Drug misuse is not only a health, but also a social and community safety issue which has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable young people and deprived communities. The very nature of the mechanisms and levers of policy delivery will present new challenges and opportunities.
Across all government business is a move towards greater local accountability and priority-setting. This removes levers that exist in central government to ensure the delivery of specific policies, but it also presents an opportunity to begin to deliver drug policy in its wider context of social and personal well-being. We may hope that the consultation will provide valuable insights into how this new delivery landscape might most effectively be exploited to deliver the best outcomes for all.
While we can see where we need to commit our efforts now, it is quite simply impossible to anticipate every challenge that will arise over the coming years. However, a clearer picture of the scale and nature of those challenges may be formed by consulting the people who are most directly affected by drug misuse, or who have the greatest experience of it: those who work in the field and members of the public, whose lives and those of their families will be affected by policies such as these.
To consult as widely as possible and most effectively to establish dialogue on the key issues, officials in the Home Office produced and launched on 25 July Drugs: Our Community, Your Say to support the consultation process. An electronic copy of this document was circulated by e-mail to all Members and Peers on 20 September. I hope that all noble Lords have received it and been able to give it consideration. Its approach is to pose a number of broadly focused questions regarding the general direction of the drug strategy, complemented by questions with a narrower focus on specific suggested strands of work, which are: young people, education and families; public information campaigns; drug treatment, social care and support; reducing drug-related crime and reoffending; and enforcement and supply activity.
In seeking views on those subjects, we circulated around 5,000 copies of the document to delivery partners and stakeholders, and some 300,000 shorter leaflets were made available to members of the public in doctors’ surgeries, libraries, police stations and other public places. Both documents were also available to download on the drugs.gov website.
This represents the widest and most comprehensive consultation conducted by the Government on drug misuse. We must be clear, though, on the nature and extent of this consultation and we should recognise the limits of policy of this kind. The objective was to invite views from the widest possible range of people whose lives are affected by drugs in any way, either directly or indirectly; or who simply had a contribution to make. The responses will help inform the direction and content of the new drugs strategy but within the existing legal framework and the international conventions which underpin it. The new drugs strategy will set out actions to reduce drug-related harm, not a legislative programme.
The key focus of the Government’s drugs work is clear and unmoving—reducing harms to communities and the tough enforcement of our laws to punish those who deal in drugs and commit offences. That is a key strand of our total approach. The consultation sought the views of respondents on the classification of cannabis. Notwithstanding the decrease in use shown by the British Crime Survey, we need to look at the impact that reclassification has had and to address the public’s concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use, and in particular the use and availability of increased strengths of the drug. Our final decision on the classification of cannabis will take fully into account the advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which will consider the responses to the consultation as part of its review, while retaining its emphasis on the evidence base. We should not use this debate to second-guess the outcome of that review.
That concludes my opening comments. I look forward to responding to the many points that noble Lords will raise.
My noble friend Lord Richard asked a question about drug-related crime which it may be convenient for me to respond to now. The relevant figure comes from the recorded crime figures, which include a figure for recorded acquisitive crime. Drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution to acquisitive crime. These figures are published annually in the crime statistics for England and Wales, which incorporate the British Crime Survey and recorded crime data. I hope that helps my noble friend.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Government consultation paper, Drugs: Our Community, Your Say.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, so kindly reminded us, this debate comes at the end of the Government’s consultation on their new drugs strategy. Consultations are never perfect and are often easy to criticise, but as consultation papers go this one was noticeably thin and woolly. Frankly, its language is bland and while there is nothing much to disagree with, there is nothing much to excite the soul either.
More interestingly, bearing in mind that the object of the exercise is to build a new strategy, it contains no concrete strategic proposals of any sort, and merely invites readers to agree with the details of the plan. There is a bit of fine tuning here and there, but, to tell the honest truth, there is nothing of any substance. Indeed, the foreword by the Home Secretary could quite easily be interchanged with the forewords written by the previous three authors of drug strategies—David Blunkett, Jack Straw and Michael Howard. I looked them up and read them; they are almost the same.
One area I draw to the House’s attention is the Government’s use of figures in the paper, which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, mentioned. They are important because they are the basis on which the Government persuade us of their arguments. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, one example is the number of addicts accessing treatment, which increased from 85,000 in 1998 to 181,000 in 2005. That is a success, but it is somewhat mired by the detail. After all, the objective of treatment is not to see how many people you can cram in—although it is good to see the number increasing—but to make them better. During that period the number completing treatment “drug free” decreased from 5.8 per cent to 3.5 per cent. That is a truly appalling figure. One of the reasons for that is that the National Treatment Agency has chosen cheaper treatment rather than the most effective, which meant that last year more than 1,200 of the best rehabilitation beds were empty and some facilities even closed at a time when we are trying to increase capacity. That is not very clever in my view.
One of the key measures of drug use that we have always used is the number of drug-related deaths. The Government say that they have declined by 2 per cent, but I noticed that the figure was a comparison between 1999 and 2005, whereas every other figure in the document compares 1998 with 2005. If you take those figures, the 2 per cent decline becomes a 10 per cent increase. I cannot believe that was done on purpose, but I would like the noble Lord when he winds up to explain exactly why that discrepancy in the figures occurs.
Overall, the statistics produced by the Government are odd. For example, the claim that drug use has stabilised does not bear comparison with the level of drug seizures or the fact that cocaine use is at its highest ever level in this country. Noble Lords are aware that statistics are like bikinis; what they reveal may be very interesting, but what they conceal is far more important. Over 20 years in the drugs field, I have learnt that the figures that we are given, genuine though they may be, need to be treated with a very large pinch of salt. It is unarguable, however, that by any measure—overall drug use, drug-related crime, drug-related deaths, level of drug seizures, cocaine use, or whatever—the UK has the worst drug problem in Europe by a long measure and the second worst in the world after the United States. If the Home Secretary, as she writes in her foreword,
“draws confidence from this progress”,
she and I have very different ideas of what constitutes progress.
Realistically, there are only two things that you can do about drugs. You can try to reduce the demand for them, or you can seek to control their supply. To reduce demand, you provide treatment for the existing addict population and you try to prevent the rest of the population taking drugs in the first place. Somewhat obviously, you focus your efforts on young people. Rightly, the Government make strong play of their education programmes. While there is always room for improvement, here in the UK we now have pretty much the most comprehensive drug education in the world. In some parts of the country we have children in their second or third generation of drug education. It is worth remembering that in his foreword to the first ever drug strategy in the 1990s, Michael Howard wrote that many teachers would discover that their pupils knew more about drugs than they did. If it was true then, it is even truer now. If it is even half-true, why have we not seen a substantial drop in drug use? The problem is that the Government have not understood that education is only the solution inasmuch as ignorance is the problem; and ignorance is not the problem. There is no evidence from anywhere in the world that drug education by itself leads to any meaningful reduction in drug use, and to pretend otherwise is deception.
The Government still do not seem to understand that education and prevention are two very different things. If there is ever going to be a solution to the drug problem, it is in preventing drug use in the first place; but the word “prevention” occurs only twice in the Government’s document. The second question in the consultation paper is, “What is the most effective way to keep children off and away from drugs?”. The answer is that we do not know, and we are not going to find out if the Government do not spend more than 13 per cent of the budget on researching drug prevention. We need drug prevention; we need evidence-based, carefully researched drug prevention. This is a major gap in the strategy.
All those points are really just scratching away at the surface. They are important, but they are tactical details, and they will not work if the overall strategy is wrong. It is wrong, and we all know it. Despite the Government’s increasing focus on reducing the demand for drugs, the reality is that it will all come to nothing if they cannot control the supply of drugs. They know that, which is why, despite the growing focus on demand reduction, 80 per cent of the budget is spent on attempts to restrict supply by using the criminal justice system.
The central plank of the Government’s policy—not just for the past 10 years but for the past 30 years—has been the Misuse of Drugs Act, which purports to enforce a practical prohibition on those drugs that are perceived to be harmful. With the exception of cannabis, most drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, are not actually illegal, but rather they are “controlled drugs”, which means that their supply and use is strictly regulated. The trouble is that the regulations do not work and thus there is no control. Far from restricting the supply and use of those drugs, the current controls actually encourage their supply and use. It is not that prohibition is, per se, wrong, but rather that it does not work.
Chapter 5 of the consultation document looks at interdiction abroad, under the heading, “The UK market and supply routes”. The two objectives in invading Afghanistan were the defeat of the Taliban and the eradication of opium poppies, which provide 80 per cent of the world’s supply and 90 per cent of the heroin on UK streets. The past two years have seen a doubling of the poppy crop in Afghanistan. Does anyone think that farmers increase their production if they cannot sell their crops? Those poppies are coming here to be sold as heroin and, if the heroin coming into the United Kingdom increases, so does drug use.
Let us consider for a moment exactly what we are doing in Afghanistan. On the one hand, we are engaged in reconstruction—improving infrastructure, rebuilding industries and creating jobs. But the largest industry in Afghanistan is agriculture and the largest sector within agriculture is poppy cultivation, which we are trying to destroy. How exactly does that work? I do not think that it does work. Indeed, you do not have to be an expert to realise that it cannot work.
But it gets worse. Farmers in Afghanistan have to borrow money—and usually the Taliban is the only source of money—to buy the seeds for their crops. So if we burn the crop, we not only destroy their income for this year, but we make it impossible for them to repay their debts to the Taliban for last year. In other words, we drive them into the hands of the Taliban. Not only have we missed our economic goal, but we have made a political solution less likely and the situation on our own streets a great deal worse.
For too many years, the debate about drugs has been polarised, as the Home Secretary writes. But, as she says, this is coming to an end, although not, I suspect, in the way that she thinks. The failure to control drugs is no longer deniable or acceptable. For too long, the debate has been between those who claim to be tough on drugs and those who are attacked for being weak—between prohibitionists and legalisers. That is ridiculous. All sensible people on all sides of this debate agree that we want a reduction in drug use, in the harm that drugs do, in drug-related crime and in the number of addicts clogging up our courts and prisons. As taxpayers, we should no longer accept the annual bill of £19 billion for no discernible benefit.
I pray that my children will never, ever take drugs, but I know that a significant proportion of their generation, from all walks of life, do and will take drugs. I would like the Minister to explain, when he comes to answer this debate, why the Government think that it is better for my kids or anyone else’s kids to buy drugs at an artificially inflated price—probably paid for by crime—of unknown strength and purity, which increases the risk of overdose, from criminals who are often armed and dangerous. The Minister could also tell us why the Government think that it is a good idea to follow a policy that benefits only criminals, international drug dealers and the Taliban.
For 30 years, we have passed more and more laws and given more and more powers to customs, police and the courts in an attempt to control the supply of drugs. The result is that we have the worst drug problem in Europe. Perhaps the most ironic question in the entire consultation document is No. 36, which asks:
“How can we further reduce the supply of drugs and improve detection?”.
If ever there was evidence of a Government who have lost touch with reality, it lies in that question.
Yes, we can and should improve the quality and quantity of treatment and education. Yes, we must develop evidence-based prevention programmes. Yes, we can criticise the current system as too wasteful and too bureaucratic, with too many targets and too much central control. We can legitimately level those criticisms at all areas of government. But these issues are on the periphery. There is only one point to make. This drug strategy has not worked and cannot work. That is not because any Home Secretary is weaker or tougher than the last; it is because you cannot address health and social problems using the criminal justice system as your main weapon. We cannot devote the necessary resources to reducing the demand for drugs when we are pouring money into the criminal justice system at home and a mad foreign policy abroad, simply to deal with the unintended consequences of a policy designed 30 years ago to prevent drug use by restricting supply.
In other words, government policy has created a free-for-all in drugs, where only criminals benefit and the whole community—young people in particular—suffers as a consequence. Nothing in the current proposals leads one to conclude that this Government either understand this or have the courage to address it.
My Lords, I am pleased that the Government have found time for this important debate, albeit right at the end of this Session, and I welcome the opportunity to comment on the consultation paper before they make the final decisions on their drugs policy for the next 10 years.
The paper deals with all the issues on which there is general agreement: the importance of harm reduction, treatment and rehabilitation, education for the young on the dangers to health and the need to reduce reoffending. However, the problem is not in the areas where there is agreement but in those where there is disagreement, and the most important of these is the issue of prohibition. The consultation paper contains no rehearsal of the arguments for and against the present policy of prohibition; indeed, it seems to be a taboo subject.
Prohibition was expected to rid the world of drugs by now. It has manifestly failed, and the Government cannot possibly argue that it has been a success. Obviously, no Government like to acknowledge failure but we now have a drugs trade which is reckoned to be the second largest world trade after oil and is totally in the hands of criminals, costing this country up to £17 billion—or £19 billion, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has just said. To continue with present policies is to accept and effectively tolerate the existence of the criminal gangs that control the trade.
In Section 6.1 of his excellent submission to the consultation paper, Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of North Wales, lists six generally accepted key harms that arise from prohibition. They are: the creation of five types of crime; the creation of crisis in the criminal justice system; the economic costs; the undermining of public health; the destabilisation of producer countries; and the undermining of human rights. It is a formidable list, the details of which he sets out in his submission.
Question 37 in the consultation paper asks:
“What could we do more efficiently?”,
“Where is value for money not being delivered?”
The answer is to seek a workable alternative to the policy of prohibition, and of course the obvious alternative is to get rid of criminal involvement by legalising and regulating all currently illegal drugs. But, sadly, this alternative is forcibly rejected by the Government. In a response to the Home Affairs Committee in 2002, the Government said:
“We do not accept that legalisation and regulation is now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs”.
As I understand it, the Government have two principal arguments for rejecting legalisation and regulation. The first is, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, in our debate on 2 March 2006:
“Legalisation of currently illegal drugs would run entirely counter to the Government’s health and education messages. Our educational message, to young people in particular, is that all controlled drugs are harmful and that no one should take them. To legalise their supply for personal consumption would send a disastrously wrong message to the majority of young people, who do not take drugs, with the potential risk of increased drug use and abuse”.—[Official Report, 2/3/06; col. 417.]
While that is clearly a risk, I think that in practice it would be substantially reduced by stressing that the move to legalisation was targeted exclusively at the criminal gangs that control the trade. Legalisation would reduce and, it is hoped, eliminate drug-related street crime and get rid of the street corner salesman, whose life is dependent on pushing his sales and encouraging his customers to move up the scale to stronger substances. All that should be welcomed by young and old. Other benefits would be quality control and income from taxation. It need in no way reduce the Government’s message that all drugs are harmful; indeed, the anti-drugs campaign could be strengthened and be as effective as, for example, the campaign against tobacco.
The Government’s second argument is the international dimension. The drug problem is global. Legalisation in one country could make that country a target for frustrated drug users from other countries and generate new criminal distribution activity. We are also signatories to the three United Nations drug conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988. Unilateral action may therefore be somewhat limited.
What then should the Government do? I think that they should set up a commission to examine independently the arguments for and against legalisation and regulation. It might be established together with representatives from other countries and should in any case research the experience and aspirations of others. It should also examine the role of the United Nations and the relevance today of the three conventions.
It could be made a European issue. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany are all open minded. Only France and Sweden would be likely to be against any move towards decriminalisation. Beyond Europe, Canada and Australia are open minded, and only the United States is the ultimate protagonist of zero tolerance, which is hard to explain, given its experience of alcohol prohibition in the past century.
Sadly, our Government seem wedded to the zero-tolerance stance and, in putting forward these suggestions, we are probably just wasting our time. In his speech to the Labour Party conference a few weeks ago, Gordon Brown said that he would be sending out a clear message that drugs are never going to be decriminalised. Note the word “never”. This statement is distinctly depressing and amounts to an open-ended licence to the criminal gangs that control the trade. We can only express the hope that Gordon Brown can be persuaded to change his mind and, as part of the 10-year policy review, at the very least support an open, independent, international inquiry into the pros and cons of legalisation and regulation versus prohibition.
Finally, on the question of cannabis reclassification, it will come as no surprise that I would not support the reclassification of cannabis from class C to class B. Indeed, I would support recommendation No. 46 of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report, Drug classification: making a hash of it? of July 2006, to,
“decouple the ranking of drugs on the basis of harm from the penalties for possession and trafficking”.
The Government rejected that recommendation.
In conclusion, I repeat my basic concern about how our sophisticated democratic Government can live with a situation where the second largest traded commodity after oil is totally in the hands of criminals.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I have three points to make and then I shall sit down. Before I start, may I say that I am disappointed with the Government’s consultation paper. It asked a large number of questions, all on the periphery of the argument, and failed to ask the really important ones. The only reference in the document to the consideration of a real change in Government strategy appears on page 27, a part of which the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, drew attention.
What does it say? Under the heading, “Questions for Consultation”, it asks:
“What are the most effective ways of preventing and reducing the harms caused to young people and families by drugs … How can we improve the effectiveness of specialist drug treatment services”?
Those are two admirable questions. It continues:
“What more could be done to reduce the impact of drugs and associated crime on local communities?”—
another good question—
“How can we further reduce the supply of drugs and improve detection and the prevention of importation”?
That is a pretty strong question. Finally, the question that the document should have addressed at the outset:
“What could we do more efficiently? Where is value for money not being delivered”?
On any view of the matter, the Government’s drugs policy has transparently failed. I do not particularly blame the Government for this. The same is true of almost every other country on Earth, whether that country has capital punishment for drug dealers and carriers or whether, as in this country, we have strong prison sentences.
It is worth while looking for a moment at what the drugs strategy was meant to achieve. As I understand it, when it was amended in 2002 it had four major elements: first, preventing today’s young people from becoming tomorrow’s drug users; secondly, reducing the supply of illegal drugs; thirdly, reducing drug-related crime and its impact on communities; and fourthly, reducing drug use and drug-related offending through treatment and support, and reducing drug-related death. Taken as a whole, none of these has been entirely successful, and most have been spectacular failures. We have not succeeded in controlling the supply of drugs. We have not succeeded in curbing the number of young people who are becoming users. We have not succeeded in radically reducing drug-related crime, and we have not done very much to give drug addicts proper treatment and support.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, I recommend that noble Lords look at the document issued by the North Wales Police Authority in response to the consultation paper we are considering today. Its view is clear, and interesting not only for what it says but whence it comes: that that police authority should urge the repeal of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its replacement with a “misuse of substances” Act based on a new “hierarchy of harm” that would also include alcohol and nicotine. It also advocates that the police authority should seek affiliation with the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which is campaigning for the repeal of prohibition and its replacement with a legal system of regulation and control. These are bold recommendations, coming from a police authority.
I have not come to any conclusions easily or quickly. If the drug strategy were working, then it would clearly be much better that it should be allowed to work successfully. But it is not working successfully, and we must now accept the reality of its failure and start asking ourselves what alternative policies we could substitute which might be more successful. I am not in a firm position to suggest many such policies. My inclination now is much the same as that expressed recently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, in somewhat bold phrases:
“If people are addicted to heroin, give them heroin. I'm not suggesting you sell it at newsagents, but if you were to offer it to addicts in a medically controlled setting, there would be no criminal market”.
That argument seems to me to be unanswerable.
The politics of this issue are decidedly complicated. It is one of those topics that a Member of Parliament who has to stand for re-election would find very difficult indeed to discuss. There are no votes in the reform of drug policies, but there may be votes in drug toughness; certainly, there would be greater peace from the tabloids if an MP or Government were to do that. It is, however, precisely the sort of issue that your Lordships’ House is very well fitted to examine. Like the delicate issues of human fertilisation and embryology, a detailed examination of the existing drugs position, the present drugs policy and the alternatives should be undertaken either by a committee of your Lordships’ House or, alternatively, by a Royal Commission.
The problem will not go away. Governments have for many years tried to make it go away and they have not succeeded. It is time that we had, at some level, a major, dispassionate and objective look at the policy and the possible alternatives. This House is in a position to play a major role in areas where the other place cannot. The problem is not at present being solved and it needs to be. I frankly know of no other way of sensibly proceeding with the matter.
My Lords, I intend to address the evidence base for the strategy on drugs and the changing face of drug use and addictions. They are not synonymous but, of course, associated. I also intend to question how our domestic drugs policy is linked to international policy, because demand and supply are integrally linked. Last week, we debated a major drug: alcohol. Alcohol is a legal drug associated with the problems of other substances that are not legal, but seems to have slipped through this drugs policy net.
First, let me congratulate the Government on taking a harm reduction approach, following on from the 1998 strategy. I declare my interest as a member of the UK Drugs Policy Commission and the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs.
Much has been achieved. The national treatment agency seems a good idea. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance is clear and draws on evidence, as far as we have evidence. But that is the problem. The knowledge base to underpin the strategy is woefully underdeveloped through lack of investment in UK research in the field. Changing classifications, legalising or not, is tinkering with the drugs while crime is rife. But why is addiction occurring? We understand neither the problem nor the efficacy of some potential interventions. Why is the young brain physiologically so susceptible to addiction? What are the causal pathways into and out of problematic drug use? Why do UK youths have higher levels of addiction than our European partners? Among school children aged 11 to 15, the use of any drug was 21 per cent in 2003 and fell to 17 per cent in 2006, with a commendable reduction in frequent use among children who have truanted or been excluded. But perhaps we could do better—much better.
Interventions such as the drug interventions programme and enforcement activity form the centrepiece of the strategy. Which are the most effective and for which sub-population? We just do not know. Do new substances emerging pose an even greater threat? Or how might some new substance-antagonists that could be produced decrease addiction risk in the long term? Some of those who turn up in accident and emergency with hepatitis C or HIV, or are victims of sexual assault and so on, are sad, pathetic, vulnerable people—victims at the end of a chain of social disaster and exploitation. And then there is another group, if one can generalise, who are locked into crime and criminal activity. Third-party, innocent people in our society are the victims of that.
I ask the Minister why Home Office funding to evaluate and monitor our drug strategy is only about 0.5 per cent of this year’s budget for drugs and how that will be rectified. Contrast that with 20 per cent of the US federal drug treatment and prevention budget allocated to research. Will the revised strategy have a dedicated pillar to improve the research and knowledge base, and a programme to deliver this? Without evidence, these policy proposals will be open to unfettered attack from polarised and ill-informed opinion.
Since 1998, the number of people in contact with structured drug treatment services has doubled to 195,000 recorded in 2006-07 in England. Harm reduction programmes have expanded, but one in four of those entering treatment dropped out within 12 weeks of triage assessment and only 14 per cent successfully completed treatment. There are about 320,000 problem opiate and crack users in England, with an unknown number of problematic cocaine and cannabis users and unknown numbers of new problem drug users each year. As a member of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, I have read much about cannabis and we will look again and afresh at it. I simply want to point out that since cannabis was reclassified in class C, there is no evidence of increased usage overall. Classification is a guide to the police and to sentencing, but there is no evidence that classification of a particular drug deters use. Meanwhile, its illegal use must not be confused with therapeutic use in multiple sclerosis. Here the problem is that the well-being of some patients is difficult to quantify objectively. I declare my interest as president of MS Cymru.
The trends in drug use are changing. Syringe exchange schemes reveal a very high use of anabolic steroids as well as opioids, with over 50 per cent of needle exchanges in some areas being anabolic steroid users, often obtained in body-building gyms. Thus needle exchange schemes have become an important source of information to agencies over what is happening in the illicit drug market world. By contrast, UK Sport is very active and indeed effective in its work to rid competitive sport and all sports of all drugs and it is to be commended for its work.
Industrial substances such as benzylpiperazine, gamma-butyrolactone—known as GBL, a precursor of gamma hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB—and also 1, 4-butanediol are being imported through the internet and increasingly abused. Substances such as GBL and 1, 4-butanediol have very wide industrial uses, such as cleaning motorcycle chains, among other things. They are imported by the barrel-load for our industry, so they are particularly difficult to monitor, and as soon as one website is closed down, another pops up, so it is an ever-chasing game.
There is recent evidence of contamination of ecstasy tablets. Ecstasy appears to be ubiquitously available in clubs on Saturday nights, and I remind noble Lords that Methaqualone, also known as Mandrax or Mandy, was prevalent in the 1970s and then LSD had its peak, so we have a constantly changing picture.
The greatest return on investment in managing drugs is likely to be found by further widening the availability, choice and quality of treatment and self-help programmes. The National Treatment Outcomes Research Study estimates the benefit-to-cost ratio as somewhere between 18:1 and 9.5:1, which suggests that for every £1 spent on treatment for opioid users, almost £10 will be saved, but no programme can be effective without motivation to change behaviour, which is why NICE guidance stresses the importance of short interventions to begin motivational change and why programmes such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous are effective.
Prison services need improving. I remind noble Lords that deaths from opioids are particularly prevalent in drug addicts who have been away from drugs for some time and have lost tolerance. They go back on the street and have a dose at the same level as previously, but having lost tolerance, they get respiratory depression, often vomit, inhale their own vomit and die. Those particularly at risk are prisoners coming out from prison into the community and those coming from a detox regime who relapse. HM Inspectorate of Prisons recently published The Mental Health of Prisoners: A thematic review of the care and support of prisoners with mental health needs which highlighted the fact that 40 per cent of new arrivals in prisons report drug use. It is sad that that report concludes that there continues to be a lack of co-ordination between substance misuse and mental health services.
Lastly, I shall address the contentious area of the international dimension, which has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The Government state in their report that:
“At an international level, effective counter-drugs policies cannot be separated from broader foreign policy”,
“About 90 per cent of the heroin that reaches the UK originates in Afghanistan and passes through Turkey and the Netherlands”.
The current policy is failing. The cost of street heroin has fallen to £54 per gram, despite record drug seizures. The consultation document goes on to point out that:
“Afghanistan is a particular priority for the UK”.
In a response to Frank Field MP regarding the UK counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister wrote:
“Eradication is the responsibility of the Afghan Government and is set out in the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy takes an integrated approach and focuses on four key priorities - targeting the traffickers; strengthening alternative livelihoods; developing institutions and reducing demand. It is not an eradication-led strategy, but recognises that there is an important role for eradication”.
The experiences of Pakistan and Thailand have demonstrated that ridding a country of illegal opium production is a “long and difficult process”—those words are from the Government’s own report—so why not encourage contracts with farmers who grow poppies? Buy up the raw opium through contracts, rather like a common agricultural policy, and require the production of another crop as well. A breach in the contract by selling to organised crime could have some sanction associated with it, and policing would be the responsibility of the Afghan Government, not ours, which is compatible with their declared policy. If I were a farmer with mouths to feed, I would grow what I know best, and I would hate with every ounce of my body someone who destroyed my livelihood and my ability to feed my family. That is human nature. With a steady contract and a decent price, the farmers might even have a higher standard of living than at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, informed this House last week that the market for legal poppies for medicinal use is already crowded and there is no additional demand. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of government to use financial incentives in other parts of the world to encourage diversification. Others growing poppies could easily divert and start producing other substances. I am thankful that the UK does not endorse the US approach of herbicidal spraying, but however a crop is destroyed, there are costs. There are indirect costs to our international security. It must be better to grow poppies than to grow terrorists.
Nearly 20 per cent of the world’s top medicines were discovered in Britain. This pharmaceutical expertise is a national strength. With drug development costs at around £550 million for each drug, a free government-purchased supply of raw opium would not even dent the costs, but it could make obtaining substrate easier.
The raw opium could be supplied for research and drug development, to develop new analgesics with lower addiction potential and fewer side effects and to develop longer-acting antagonists to help addicts stay off drugs. Our pharmaceutical industry should also be urged to manufacture cost-controlled analgesics to supply those countries where millions suffer and die daily without any analgesics because they are too expensive, even if their country allows them to be prescribed. Make no mistake; in some countries you cannot even get analgesics.
I urge the Government to think again; it is not too late to rethink the international dimension to the drugs policy.
My Lords, I am conscious that there are many experts in this House who know a great deal about this subject. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to what they say.
We are frequently told that what we are involved in is a war on drugs. So, as a former soldier, I thought that, rather than just look at the consultation document, I would carry out an appreciation of the problem as one might if one were taking part in a war—by looking at all the factors to be considered and at whether there are gaps or anything else that needs to be weighed in the balance. I shall run through this appreciation very shortly, because I should like to expand later on a number of its aspects.
An appreciation begins with the ground—but I do not think that there is any argument about the ground over which this war is being fought. It is the economic, social and political well-being of every country in the world and the well-being of every man, woman and child in those countries. It is nothing more, nothing less.
Where is the enemy whom we are considering? Again, I think there is little argument about that. The enemy are those who grow and supply the harmful substances that put the ground at risk, in particular the dealers, whom I regard as about the most despicable beings on Earth. Terrorists, murderers and paedophiles all may have some reason for turning to those particular activities; dealers are interested only in themselves. Their greed and demand for personal gain pay no attention to the misery that they are causing to the people to whom they deal these substances.
Our own troops are difficult to identify in this largely intangible war. International co-operation has already been mentioned. The Government mention national policy and strategy in their documents. Information and statistics have been quoted. There is also public opinion. Finally, there are treatment agencies, which also have been mentioned. Those are five things and perhaps there are more.
What is the aim of this war? The Minister expressed it very clearly in the introduction to the consultation document. It is,
“to address the complex and wide-ranging problem”
of damage caused to individuals, families and communities by illegal drugs.
That is the aim of the war and the ground. The enemy has been identified, and our own troops have been identified. One has now to look and see how effective our own troops are at tackling the enemy. Looking at the evidence, I believe that this war is not being won. All the evidence, however produced, does not seem to satisfy any suggestion that it is being won.
Complacency has been mentioned, and the Minister said that the Government are not complacent. However, any document that can show such figures on the appalling number of people still involved in taking these drugs while using the phrase “huge success” is complacent.
I was interested that one response to the consultation document, by an organisation called Transform, said that the Government know,
“that its support for drugs prohibition creates significant harms ... The submission demonstrates how the Government: manipulated the entire consultation to close down genuine debate on drug policy; set the framework in such a way as to have determined the outcome before the consultation had even finished; ignored ten years of constant criticism of its drug policy; hid internal reports critical of prohibition; treats criticism of drug policy with disdain and contempt; refuses to evaluate prohibition; is a hostage to US inspired geopolitical forces; and uses drug policy for electioneering ... This is despite the fact that the Government admits that prohibition itself is a significant cause of harm”.
Transform is not just a back-street organisation; it is extremely serious, involving a number of people coming together to discuss the problem, which they have done for many years. The response continues:
“The consultation should have been a thoroughgoing review of the policy making process and the impact that policy has in the everyday world. In the event, it turned out to be a sham. The consultation document is another dodgy dossier. It contained no proposals, breaking one of the fundamental rules for consultations”.
I am sorry that the Government did not produce a more substantial consultation document after the first strategy from 1998 to 2002 and the second period from 2002 until now. I now come to the next element in all this, which is the information and statistics that are presented. They have already been referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft, Lord Cobbold and Lord Richard. I have always been especially concerned about prisons, which have been mentioned. When I first went into prisons, I was told that policy was being built around something called a mandatory drug test, in which 10 per cent of prisoners were tested every month. The aim was to reduce the number who tested positive. The figure of 10 per cent has gone down to 5 per cent. In one prison, I found a man with nine certificates on his wall. I asked what they were. They told me that he did not use drugs and that they showed that he had tested negative and if I came next week, there would be a 10th. That meant that they could always keep their figures up.
In Wymott Prison, a large prison half for training and half full of sex offenders, they said that there were no drugs. I did not believe a word of it walking around the training wing and I then discovered that the only people that they tested were the sex offenders who did not use drugs. When I went to Rochester Prison, I was told that there were no drug users either among the young offenders or the people in the ordinary part of the prison. I did not believe it. I discovered that they were inspecting the asylum seekers and immigration detainees, who did not have access to drugs, and claiming that they had zero drug use. Rubbish. I was appalled to see in the consultation document that this nonsense is still being perpetuated, because it states that positive tests are down by 58 per cent from 1996-97, from 24.4 per cent to 10.8 per cent for 2005-06. I do not believe that the level of drug use in our prisons is 10.8 per cent. If you believe that and base policy on fudged figures, you will have fudged results.
I mention that because I am extremely concerned that if you are fighting a war, you must do it on hard information and evidence. You cannot do it on fudge. If you do, you will end up with a fudged result. That is why I am extremely concerned about two things. One I shall deal with very shortly, because I hope that the Government will take note of it.
Another reply to the consultation comes from 18 drug organisations which have put together a paper on residential treatment. Residential treatment is known to be the most successful way of treating people who are addicted, but it takes time. The trouble with too many of our treatment programmes is that they are short and that people do not get full value from them. Yet the figures show that our residential homes are not as full as they could be, and some have had to close. I commend the fact that the report includes these 18 organisations. Not all of them are involved in residential treatment; a number of people are involved in either harm reduction or addiction programmes, and they support the case for these. They have the sense that too many areas will not place people in treatment programmes that run for more than three to six months. This is simply not sensible when tackling deeply entrenched behaviour. My concern is that I find no evidence in the consultation document that that sort of view from people on the ground is being sufficiently noted.
Finally, my conclusion that prohibition has been excluded is derived from the fact that it is not mentioned in this consultation document at all; nor is legalisation or prescription. It assumes that this policy, which has been pursued and has failed, is to go on. I therefore do not believe that this consultation document is a worthy one on which a future strategy should be based. Too much of the evidence is suspect. Most particularly, I do not believe that all the things that have been proven to work, even though they cost money, have been included. I agree very strongly with my noble friend Lord Cobbold that a commission, rather than a consultation document that does not include proposals, is needed to go into not only the aspects which the Government choose to include but all the aspects that are known to people, including the problems of the prohibition, legalisation and prescription of drugs. The latter must have a role because, as sure as anything, what is happening now is failing, and we as a country cannot afford to go on allowing that to happen.
My Lords, I am associated with several charities in the drug and alcohol field, but today I speak particularly as a trustee of Action on Addiction, which is well qualified to offer a meaningful contribution to the new strategy. It operates long-established treatment services in both the residential and non-residential sectors, such as Clouds House, which are acknowledged as some of the best in the country. It has facilitated cutting-edge research, and has shown leadership in the development of services for families affected by addiction, including children, through its Families Plus service. It has also established world-class courses for training addiction counsellors at its centre for addiction treatment studies.
My contribution will probably be a little different from that of most who have spoken so far, as it focuses on the treatment, family support, workforce development and research sections of any new strategy. On the issues that others have addressed tonight, my view is that, regardless of whether we decriminalise drugs or have more effective enforcement, people will continue to suffer from addiction, and they need help to recover from it. After all, alcohol is legal and has been deregulated. Do we have addicts? Of course we do. We have an increasing number of addicts; there are four times as many addicts of alcohol as there have ever been addicts of drugs. We must bear some of those issues in mind when we consider how to deal with the nuts and bolts of addiction and with addicts, which is the purpose of my contribution.
A significant amount of money has been invested over 10 years of drug treatment. As a result, we must acknowledge that more people have had access to some kind of treatment and, somewhat late in the day, we are starting to see a growing recognition of the need to provide proper support to families and carers, including children. In some areas, there have been clear improvements in commissioning and service provision. However, while some improvements have been made over the life of the current strategy, they are not wholesale across the board or deeply rooted, and much more needs to be done to ensure that we continue to make further progress both in treatment delivery and in the systems within which treatment services must operate. To do so, we must learn the lessons of the past 10 years and act accordingly, and I bring that home to the domestic scene rather than the international one.
First, given the extent of the problem and its national impact, it is a scandal that so few people who need treatment for alcohol dependence are able to access it: currently, only one in five, according to Alcohol Concern. That is an over balancing of the direction of resources in the drug treatment field. I am not arguing that the amount of money spent on drug dependency should be reduced, but there should be a better relationship between expenditure on alcohol and drug addiction than we presently have instead of having separate silos. The national treatment agency is the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, not only drug misuse, and if it is to continue it should be allowed to act according to that encompassing remit.
We must avoid repeating the mistake of over investment on treatment obtained via the criminal justice system; most of the debate so far today has been about that. If things continue in the same way it will be at the expense of voluntary access to treatment. There must be a balance, otherwise we will continue to see the perverse situation of addicts committing crimes to get treatment and those who could otherwise have avoided the criminal justice system by entering treatment, being caught up in it. It is important that we avoid that.
Treatment should be obtainable in a timely way that takes advantage of any appearance or increase in the addict’s motivation to change, something that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has raised previously. We should continue to ensure that a harm reduction platform is secured in order to stabilise those with chaotic lifestyles that have such a widespread damaging impact. But we must ensure that the process does not stop there, as it has tended to do over the past 10 years, with thousands piling up in a methadone cul-de-sac. Everyone should be offered and encouraged to take the opportunity to make meaningful progress to a life completely free of drug dependency. High on my wish list would be a drug strategy that fostered independence and abstinence if possible, not a dependency on other drugs.
Next, we must undo the equation that treatment inevitably and exclusively means medical prescription, and recognise that psychosocial interventions are, in the end, likely to play a key role in preventing relapse to illegal drug use. If we know that various forms of social support are key to sustaining recovery, we should ensure that we target adequate resources to that purpose. We must continue to ensure that pathways of care are commissioned, rather than unrelated treatment, rehabilitation and care episodes—where everything is dealt with separately and never brought back together through pathways of care. We must cease the obsession with outputs—numbers in treatment—and focus on outcomes and the quality of treatment inputs needed to achieve them.
At the moment, “in treatment” can mean anything and very little, and result in the experience of being caught in a rapidly revolving door or endlessly treading water in a sea of prescriptions. It is all very well for the NTA to trumpet 180,000-plus people “in treatment”, but that says nothing about the quality and effectiveness of that treatment. As the NTA itself has said, quantity without quality is a waste of resources. It also wastes lives and exacerbates and demoralises people. Commissioning and purchasing should be driven by the need to secure targets related to volume and price.
The quality of commissioning, purchasing and care management needs significant improvement in many areas too. Training is essential to achieve this. For a start, there should be consistency across the country, and more controversially, I suggest that we should divest from poor quality, wasteful NHS services in this arena. I know that that will upset many of my noble friends within Government, but money is going in and in many instances it is not producing the results that it should. If that money was directed to the voluntary sector, we would see far better outcomes and value for money than we are at the moment. We should move funds to the voluntary sector, particularly into the residential services that were mentioned previously, and we should examine them to ensure that people are providing value for money and getting good results. In turn, they should be given the cash to ensure that beds are filled. Many of them were left empty last year and the same has happened this year. When people are crying out for treatment, it is a scandal that beds are left empty. They could be used to assist people to get back to sobriety.
I move to a separate subject. We must rationalise the current wide variety of regulations and standards and produce a coherent, workable system that can be applied across all the models of care. I suggest that we should make a start in the area of residential treatment and see whether we can introduce some standardisation and commonality of approach. Gradually, we could then roll that out over a wider area. Further, if we want to make the most of the voluntary sector’s considerable expertise, we must be prepared to keep to the commitment that voluntary organisations are able to recover the full costs of providing services in line with voluntary sector compacts. We must rigorously examine the ratio of spending on bureaucracy to that of spending on actual service delivery and training. Why should good services that directly benefit people’s lives struggle for resources while new government agencies grow and grow, consuming funds? As an aside, we seem to have far more conferences and receptions. I suggest that a good start would be to halve the conferences and receptions planned for the coming year. We would then release a significant amount of money that could be put on the front line to assist addicts and their families.
Turning to families, there are many more people affected by substance misuse than there are substance misusers. The evidence of the impact on their lives suggests that this constitutes a major public health issue and should be addressed as such. The health and cost benefits of providing proper support to families affected by substance misuse are likely to be very significant indeed. I would argue that the key recommendations published in Hidden Harm should be implemented without delay. That would ensure that the 1.3 million children of substance misusers receive the help they desperately need. Action on Addiction has developed an effective brief intervention called M-PACT that supports these children, and which we are now aiming to make more widely available across the country. I would be happy to show the details of that intervention to my colleagues on the Front Bench if they would like to examine them in the context of the strategic review.
A competent workforce is also essential to quality and effectiveness, but it is no good highlighting how important workforce development is, noting the continuing deficiencies in knowledge and skills, while at the same time failing to provide any tangible support to those like Action on Addiction’s Centre for Action Treatment Studies. We need to resist investment in short-term, superficial training, which has little lasting impact, in favour of courses that produce competent professionals with portable skills. We also need to see the further roll-out of treatment programme accreditation and schemes such as that organised by the European Association for the Treatment of Addiction. It is all about quality rather than numbers, because it will be quality that produces the desired results in the end.
I believe that we have made some progress over the past 10 years—I am not as critical as some of the previous speakers in the debate—but there is much work to be done. If we begin to address some of the nuts and bolts issues in detail in the way I have endeavoured to address them, as well as looking at the wider national and international issues, we have a prospect of making more progress in the ensuing strategic period of the next 10 years.
My Lords, I apologise for missing the Minister’s opening of the debate and the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold. I was told the debate was starting at 6.30 pm and I had to go and earn a living. I apologise to the House for my late arrival but, even having arrived late, I have listened to some excellent contributions. I hope that I can add some value to the debate from my position.
There is a sense of déjà vu or groundhog day whenever there is a drugs debate; the issue becomes one of legalisation versus prohibition. I do not want to go there, save to say that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, are common sense: we need to start from where we are as opposed to where we wish to be with our drugs policy. The question here is about treatment and, in that regard, I should declare an interest as a member of the ACMD, that much maligned but interesting group of people, and as the chief executive of the social care organisation, Turning Point, which I am told is the largest provider of substance misuse services in the voluntary and/or third sector in the country. We have a body of knowledge from which to speak and that is why I thought it would be useful to contribute to the debate.
Turning Point provides services across the range, from tier one to tier four, and this includes both community and criminal justice services as well as residential services. For the majority of our service users, substance misuse is only one of a range of complex needs which contribute to their social exclusion. We need to take this on board in discussing the drug strategy if we are not simply to do what we have always done. If we do, as Einstein pointed out, we will get what we have always got, which is a sense that we have not moved much further from where we are.
Let me give your Lordships some facts. Half of the people we see at our drug and alcohol services suffer from mental health problems. Around half of those accessing drug and alcohol services have mental health problems, according to the Department of Health’s own figures on dual diagnosis, and 84 per cent of homeless people have drug or alcohol problems. Regardless of which side of the House you happen to sit, we need to acknowledge that the Government have made major strides in drug policy over the past 10 years. You may argue that getting people into treatment is not enough, but we would all agree that it is better than not having people in treatment. The Government have got more people into treatment with a significant programme of investment, and it is essential that they continue to invest in and improve the success of existing treatment approaches, and increase the numbers of people entering and completing treatment.
I further agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also made these points—in relation to the criminal justice system and the balancing of investment to ensure that we do not get perverse incentives. I have received letters from fine, upstanding middle-class members of our community who have had sons and daughters commit crime in order to access treatment. It is not the intention, but there is a perception that there is a fast route to treatment through the criminal justice system which I would like to see rebalanced.
So what do we do? Where are the solutions to be found? Let us take a forward looking, positive approach to what can be done. We need to deal with and manage better wrap-around care. It is time to build on the success of the past 10 years and not denigrate it for its failings. We need a new drug strategy which is ambitious for substance misusers and ambitious about their potential to re-enter and contribute positively to our communities. It is not always a dead-end for many of Turning Point’s and other services’ clients. The Government must build on the existing framework so that treatment encompasses the full complexity of substance misusers’ needs and provides wrap-around support to enable them to take a full role in society.
The areas of people’s lives that need specific support are employment, housing support, healthcare and issues such as support on leaving the criminal justice system. My own organisation and others—I am not simply going to advertise Turning Point—have specific measurable outcome-focused programmes that have been shown to work, and require further investment and attention for those programmes to be rolled out so they are working everywhere, not just in the places that are lucky enough to have them. Those services are the stepping stone allowing current and former drug users to become citizens again—positive citizens—and that must be the aim of the Government’s drug strategy, along with moving them away from the social exclusion that substance misuse can create.
Helping drug users into employment and providing stability links in with the Government’s agenda on increasing the number of people in paid employment, reducing benefit dependency and targets for social exclusion. It is imperative that people do not fall off the end of the conveyor belt of the treatment journey with no ongoing support. The drug strategy must make wrap-around care an essential part of a drug user’s treatment journey, not an add-on or an optional extra. There must be clear targets for commissioners and providers to prioritise these essential services to deliver more integrated and effective solutions in drug policy.
If you simply set targets, they will be reached. We have all come across the concept of “gaming”. What we know and what we need to learn is that organisations like mine need to add value. The point is not just to get someone into treatment but to get them into positive, active citizenship. We—and I personally—are not against the idea that noble Lords have mentioned of managing harmful drug addiction through treatment with alternatives like methadone. It is not a moral question, simply one about what works for the individual and their relationship with the treatment that is appropriate for them.
Turning Point and others recommend an integrated approach to the treatment of substance misuse through extended interpretation of treatment to encompass these wrap-around services and aftercare support. I would also include financial advice and housing support as part of the integrated treatment process. We recommend that the new drugs strategy includes a target focused on the requirement to provide integrated aftercare support for substance misusers, built into their treatment plan. That must also include support for the more problematic users and specific aftercare support for offenders.
Since the publication of the previous drugs strategy, patterns of drug use have changed. The new strategy needs to reflect that and develop new services to build on current provision. The increasingly complex needs of drug users, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, and the lack of tailored and flexible accessible services to respond to those changes are a significant challenge for the Government over the next 10 years. The Government must address the wholesale absence of treatment systems specifically for crack and stimulant users and for those with dual diagnosis of substance misuse and mental health problems. With half of substance misusers already having a mental health problem, as I have mentioned, the Government cannot afford to ignore the needs of that client group who may access services only when a crisis point has been reached, often becoming NHS “frequent flyers”, clogging up A&E departments and becoming the very people who cost us the most.
Users of other substances often turn up at our services simply because they have nowhere else to go. That includes those with problems with the stimulant khat, those using prescription drugs and steroid users. Alcohol misuse is a significant problem affecting individuals. It feels like déjà vu to say it, but we plead with the Government to take due care about what is said about alcohol. It is a significant challenge to the social infrastructure of this country and the Government need to pay attention to that. Alcohol services are less common than drug services and less likely to be part of a co-ordinated response with other agencies; for example, with children’s services. Turning Point’s own report identified that tonight one in 11 children will have gone home, if it can be called “home”, to a place where their parents or carers are misusing alcohol. I emphasise that: tonight. We are calling for a national inquiry to investigate fully the scale of the problem and identify recommendations for service delivery to support those families.
In order truly to come of age, the next drug strategy should be an integrated substance misuse strategy that covers all problematic substance use. It is essential that the new drug strategy addresses dual diagnosis—co-existing substance use and mental health problems—and acknowledges the Dual Diagnosis Good Practice Guide.
In addition, the new drug strategy needs to turn its attention to blood-borne viruses. We at Turning Point are concerned that, despite the welcome and necessary increased investment in drug treatment, there has been an alarming increase in blood-borne viruses. We contacted nearly 900 injecting drug users across England and asked them about their injecting practices and blood-borne virus status as part of our report on blood-borne viruses, At the Sharp End. Our findings are truly alarming. There is a new generation of injecting drug users, using heroin and crack together, who are at greater risk of infection and may not have been tested or received treatment for their illness. We recommend that the new drug strategy sets out a clear commitment to reduce the transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C and improve access to treatment with clear targets to ensure delivery. This is a public health matter; it is not an issue just for the drug-using community; it will affect us all and the generation to come. We must act.
In too many drug action teams there is an inadequate understanding of commissioning. Commissioning should be the means by which one understands the needs of the client, and/or the community in which they live, to build a platform for procuring appropriate services. That often does not happen. One gets cheap purchasing of the cheapest service, which is why residential services are not often focused on and there is often an odd mismatch between what the NHS provides, because of its relationship with the commissioners, and what the voluntary and third sector provide. Commissioning must be clearly defined, and commissioners must be held accountable for the process of commissioning drug services. They must be able to audit and provide evidence of the methods that they have used to understand the needs of their community.
I have a positive attitude toward the Government’s drug strategy. Much has been done that must be acknowledged, but there is much yet to do—to coin a phrase. I shall end with a story, because it is important that we bring the individual into the debate. I shall talk about someone who represents the aim of the Government’s drug strategy, which is to produce positive citizenship in our approach to treatment.
Cathy is 27. She was referred to Turning Point’s employment and education support project, which supports current and former drug users who wish to access learning or work opportunities. She was on a methadone script, but continued to use heroin as well, partly through boredom and partly through the lack of proper continuing support. That happens a lot; whether one likes it or not, that is the reality. She wanted to go to the gym and return to study—substance misusers often say such things. We at Turning Point sat down with her and helped her work through the funding requirements for a passport to leisure and arranged an appointment for her to use Adult Directions software to help her to decide what course she wanted. We helped her engage with her fitness desires and to understand the realities of becoming involved in fitness programmes in colleges. We also made sure that at every point of potential failure she was supported to take the next step forward.
To cut a long story short, Cathy is still on her course; she is doing a national diploma in animal management; she is enjoying it; she has stabilised her drug use and is no longer topping up her methadone with heroin, which is a big step towards total abstention from drug use that we must understand. She is due to start a work placement in conjunction with her course in January, and we will continue to support her in finding a suitable work place. Cathy has recently become engaged to her partner and is excited about the possibilities that her future now holds. We work with tens of thousands of potential Cathys. I urge the Government in their drug strategy to ensure that what we can do through wrap-around care helps all the other Cathys and people like her in this country.
My Lords, it is surely a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, attending his last debate as Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers, that more than half of your Lordships present this evening are sitting on the Cross Benches.
I shall focus on the supply side of the drugs issue—where the drugs come from and how we should try to reduce and control the supply into this country, and thus the harm they do and the harmful criminal activity they spawn. I have deliberately chosen to speak in this debate rather than in last week’s debate on Afghanistan and the Middle East in order to emphasise the point—as did the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—that the supply and demand of drugs are two sides of the same coin and cannot be considered separately. In that context I was disappointed that less than one page of the consultation document is devoted to questions of supply.
The facts are straightforward—around 90 per cent of the heroin sold in Britain comes from opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, most of it reaching us via Turkey, the Balkans and the Netherlands. The great majority of the cocaine sold in Britain comes from the coca plant grown in Colombia and in neighbouring South American countries, reaching us direct from South America or via the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. The Government’s basic approach, working with the Governments of the source and transit countries and through multilateral organisations including the European Union and the UN, is to seek to eliminate production, disrupt transit routes and thus reduce the flow of illegal drugs into this country. I have great admiration for those carrying out this policy. I have seen at first hand, for example, the work that the British authorities are doing in Jamaica, in close co-operation with the Jamaican authorities, to interrupt the supply of cocaine through Jamaica to the United Kingdom. I greatly welcome the unprecedented co-operation that we are now seeing among the different UK Government agencies involved—the Home Office, the FCO, SOCA, the intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces and HM Revenue and Customs. That co-operation is admirable and necessary and, as the noble Lord said in introducing the debate, there have been striking successes.
I have huge admiration, too, for the work of our troops in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand province in the south, to combat the Taliban and Afghan warlords and, working with DfID and other colleagues, to try to persuade Afghan farmers to switch from the opium poppy to other crops. But the question that we have to ask is whether this approach is working or is likely to work, or whether there are other approaches that may—I emphasise “may”—be viable alternatives.
Let us consider Afghanistan, as others have done. There is some good news. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, told your Lordships last week that the number of poppy-free provinces in Afghanistan,
“has increased from six … to 13”.—[Official Report, 23/10/07; col. 1013.]
over the past year. That is good but the noble Lord also told us that the total area under cultivation in Afghanistan rose this year by 17 per cent, and that cultivation in Helmand province has risen this year by 48 per cent, following a rise of 162 per cent last year. According to the Senlis Council, which has done a great deal of work on this over the past few years, the cultivation of illegal opium now directly involves 13 per cent of Afghanistan’s population and the indirect figure must surely be a good deal higher.
Faced with that evidence it seems to me that we have to ask ourselves whether the present approach to controlling poppy production in Afghanistan is right or whether there may be a better alternative. The Senlis Council, which as I say has studied these issues in great detail, has proposed that there should be in the first instance a pilot project to examine the feasibility of controlled production for medicinal purposes, using the local community structures in Afghanistan and working with the Afghan Government and international agencies. It seems to me that that approach of controlled production for medicinal purposes has real merit and needs to be closely examined. I accept that there are arguments against that approach, as the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, explained last week. I welcome his proposal for a more structured approach to the cultivation of alternative crops in Afghanistan to make them more attractive to growers by comparison with the opium poppy.
That approach is not incompatible with controlled cultivation of the poppy as well. I did not find wholly persuasive the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, against controlled cultivation; I refer in particular to the argument that there is not at present sufficient medical demand for morphine to justify controlled production of the poppy in Afghanistan. Even if there were insufficient demand, there might still be advantage in controlled production; benefiting growers, local communities and the Government and squeezing criminal activity. The bigger point is that the argument about insufficient demand today is a static argument. At present, 80 per cent of morphine is consumed in five developed countries, including the US, the UK and France. The developing countries, with 80 per cent of the world’s population, use 5 per cent of the world’s supply. The objective need for morphine for patients in the developing world is no less than in the developed world, not least for palliative care. As countries develop and as health delivery systems improve, that demand will grow.
That, surely, is the context in which we should be considering opium poppy production in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Can the international community put in place an internationally controlled regime of poppy production that will help to meet the growing demand over the years ahead in the developing world and the developed world? How can we work with Governments in consumer countries to ensure effective and controlled user regimes?
The arguments in respect of cocaine and coca are more complex. There are medical uses for the coca plant, as local anaesthetic and for the creation of bloodless fields in surgery. That is much less significant than the importance of opium and morphine, and there are effective alternatives. Furthermore, our influence over the control of coca production and trade in South America, where US influence clearly predominates, is less than over poppy production in Afghanistan, where Britain has the lead in co-ordinating the international anti-narcotics effort. Nevertheless, given the scale of the harm that cocaine and crack do to our society, the perverse influence of international crime that flows from the policy of prohibition and the misery that the resulting conflict causes in Colombia and other producing countries, it seems to me that we should be looking with a genuinely open mind at alternative approaches thereto.
None of this is easy but, to say the least, it is not obvious that the present policy of prohibition is working or will work in the future. Surely the Government now need to look, perhaps via a commission, as some other noble Lords this evening have proposed, with international partners and with a genuinely open mind at alternative approaches to supply, in particular in relation to the opium production in Afghanistan. I hope that in closing the Minister will be able to give us an assurance to that effect.
My Lords, for the same reasons as my noble friend Lord Adebowale, I apologise to the Minister for missing the first few minutes of his speech.
I will talk later about what I see as some of the causes, but I want to start with the old saying that laws seldom prevent what they seek to forbid. The real problem is the politicians’ public posturing to try to get headlines that they are being tough on things, without thinking of the effect. That means that changes can be very tricky, because I can imagine the newspaper headlines screaming out the moment someone wants to take one of the more sensible approaches that have been recommended by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Cobbold and Lord Mancroft.
I see drug abuse as primarily a medical problem rather than a criminal problem; the criminals flow from it. The challenge is that most of us use a drug of some sort. Most of us stick with legal drugs, such as alcohol or nicotine. Some of us use coffee to speed us up. Others use the expression, “I could murder a cup of tea”; there is a drug in tea, which is why people so long for it. We need pick-me-ups; we need things to help us to interact socially, because we are shy, or to cope with the stresses of life. Some people can handle drugs in sensible quantities and in a controlled way. Unfortunately, some people cannot; some people are less stable and not everyone is normal—in fact, who is? We all have differing degrees of stability or instability.
It is no good when people who are very stable say to those at the edges, “You must not do this and I’m going to stop you doing this”. The desire to isolate or insulate yourself from life is very powerful. Throughout my life, I have known people who have taken drugs in various ways. Invariably, they have had a need to insulate themselves from the realities of life when things got stressful. That was particularly true of those who took hard drugs. People, including some high-powered businesspeople, could not handle the stress when things went wrong. That is the real problem.
If we then make drugs illegal and crack down on them, as we have done, that forces the price up. At that point, you get the crime problem, as people need to commit crime to fund their habit. There is a point at which people become addicted. There are people on the edges who would not have become addicted to drugs if they had not been introduced to them. I shall return to that point at the end of my little talk.
I am very much in favour of decriminalisation. The British Crime Survey figures, which I read in the newspapers on Friday, show that since the confiscate-and-warn policy came in on cannabis, cannabis use has gone down from 24 per cent to 21 per cent. So it looks like the policy is working. Why reverse it now? Is that not completely perverse?
Let me answer a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I remember that when, in the good old days, heroin was supplied by doctors under prescription to addicts—that is exactly what used to happen before all this posturing—we had about 7,500 addicts and it was reckoned that there were about as many again who were not registered. In other words, we did not have a serious problem. Then one of the parties—I think that it was the party now in opposition—decided to get tough on these things, since when the situation has become out of control. Clearly, we have gone the wrong way and we should take a lesson from that.
For some history on all this and some facts on addiction and whether you can get over it, there is a very good book, Heroin Century, written by Tom Carnwath, with whom I think I was at school. He did not take drugs but he ended up in the Midlands running a place with a lot of addicts along with a person who had taken drugs; together, they collaborated on the book. It contains a lot of common sense and I highly recommend it for a rational, well argued approach from someone who has been on the front line and sees the truth and the falsehoods of the public statements that people make.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Jay about some of the solutions on the supply side. I have heard it said before that we could use quite a large proportion of the Afghan crop for proper medical and pharmaceutical use. Why not get the pharmaceutical companies to do that? They are used to running well regulated operations with controlled drugs—those drugs that must not get out and be released generally. I am quite sure that they would cope with that properly, particularly with someone breathing down their necks to make sure that they did not put a foot out of line.
On the demand side, why are so many young people turning to drugs? I think that in many cases it is because they are bored out of their skulls. The Health and Safety Executive has closed down things that were fun and exciting to the extent that even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that our play places are so safe that people are now playing on railway lines to get their kicks and that we need to make play a little more dangerous. People are terrified of being sued, despite the fact that Part 1 of the Compensation Act says that the courts, which have in the past levied huge fines against schoolteachers and scout masters, ought not to permit a compensation claim if there was a good reason or if it would close down a publicly desirable activity. But, unfortunately, the insurance companies do not seem to have noticed that.
We are also selling our playing fields, and that is highly significant. Peer-group pressure plays a large part in drug-taking. You are sitting there with no excitement, no challenge and no risk-taking. You get in with a group of people who are doing something exciting and illegal and suddenly there is peer-group pressure to start taking drugs. There is then pressure, manipulated by the people selling the drugs, for you to take the drugs that they find more interesting to sell because they produce a higher profit margin. People get dragged along by their peer group, and we need to establish activities so that the peer group moves in a different direction—one in which there is a desire to be fit and healthy, to perform well and so on. That is the point of team sports and the activities surrounding them—for example, for the supporters, who are not necessarily as good at taking part, and for the coaches and the mentoring that comes from the coaches. We have destroyed a lot of that through the willy-nilly sale of playing fields.
We must get a bit more excitement and challenge into life. We need to accept that a few more people may get injured or killed taking part in dangerous and risky activities, but that is nothing compared with a generation being wiped out by drugs, which is far worse. We have shifted the problem from an area which was good for society to one which is evil.
My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to the contributions to this debate, and it is particularly interesting that many of them came from the Cross Benches. I fully take on board the inappropriateness of a political response to this problem, with accusations of people being hard or soft, and I hope that my response from these Benches will not be inappropriate. I acknowledge the expertise of the noble Lords who have spoken. I am fairly new to the Home Office brief, so I am very much in listening mode.
One theme running through the contributions was disappointment with the Government’s consultation exercise. However, I pay credit to the Government for having brought it forward, because it is time to reassess the situation: drug use is changing; the threat is changing; and the policy options are certainly changing. But the question is whether a consultation such as this was needed. The answer this evening seems to have been very clear: the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that it was a woolly consultation and “thin”, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he was disappointed with the paper.
My disappointment with the consultation paper lay in the fact that it was very wide-ranging. It encompassed drugs in their totality, whether legal or illegal, including everything legal but harmful—for example, volatile substances and alcohol, whether used by a majority or a minority. However, extremely harmful substances such as crack cocaine were barely mentioned in the consultation. It would have been useful if the Government had issued one consultation paper focusing on health issues, both physical and mental, with the aim of stopping people starting on drugs and helping users to quit. That, on its own, would have been a very valid consultation. A second consultation could then have focused on criminal issues, covering legalisation and other issues on which we need to focus, such as on how to deal with criminals and the supply of drugs. In effect, the subject should have been covered by two separate consultations. The Minister said that 1,100 responses came in. I admire those who replied, because it must have been extremely difficult for them to respond to such a breadth of questions, or perhaps they focused on only one or two of them.
The Government are also to be congratulated on some of the steps that they have taken over the past 10 years—for example, in introducing the Proceeds of Crime Act. Other speakers referred to the general downward trend in drug usage, including, as we learnt last week, in cannabis use. I fully acknowledge the justified worry about the new strength of cannabis—the sort of cannabis known as skunk—and about the psychosis produced in some cannabis users. Again, those are specific issues that should be dealt with as health issues. I should have preferred this to be two separate papers: health issues and criminal issues.
Another theme that came through this evening was the issue of supply. I bow to the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and agree with his analysis of the doom and gloom response of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, when we debated Afghanistan and poppy cultivation. He had something slightly more cheerful to say when he was talking about a CAP-style support of other products. If we consider the history of Afghanistan and what it used to be able to grow—fruit, nuts, wheat and so on—and think of the world debate around biofuels and the demand for land to grow other things, we see that that is a powerful combination. It is not treating the matter with sufficient urgency to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, did, that DfID will look at it in the long term.
As for South America and cocaine cultivation, in the past 10 years the Government have done nothing but withdraw from South America. They have closed embassies there and, although we have a few remaining embassies elsewhere, now regard Brazil and Mexico as the two hubs. However, when we talk to ambassadors in central America we hear that we are fire-fighting instead of being influential players. I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Jay: I do not think it is sufficient to rely on the influence of the United States. The United States’ aerial spraying of Colombian fields has not produced the results that it hoped for. It has not proven very effective. A rethink of our attitude to and policies on central America are very much needed.
I turn to some of the other issues which arose in the debate. I was particularly struck by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about young brains and addiction. The issue was addressed also by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who said that young people have complex needs, and by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, who talked about the young needing danger. It may be difficult for us to cast our minds back to when we were between 14 and 26, but I think that we did react differently to things then. We needed a kick out of life and some danger. Young people are not stupid; they know that driving fast is dangerous, but they still do it. There are all sorts of issues around why young brains tend towards addiction that merit further exploration.
I completely relate to the issue of complex needs. During my time as a local government councillor, numbers of homeless people presented themselves because they were on drugs. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, quoted a figure of 84 per cent of homeless people using drugs, a figure which is no different from eight years ago. There are complex needs in that sector of the population and criminalising them has never helped them. What would help is a recognition that spending money on residential treatment is cheaper and far more effective than prison.
The next issue is whether it is a good idea to have a consultation such as this one when the Prime Minister will only close down the debate by saying that drugs will never be decriminalised, a point already made today. This occurs against a background in which a member of a law enforcement body, Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales Police, has been quoted as saying that he will campaign hard for the legalisation of drugs such as heroin. The evidence of falling cannabis use also suggests that reclassification may have had a beneficial effect.
I pay tribute to the Government’s hard-hitting “Talk to Frank” campaign; the telly adverts were extremely effective and no doubt played their part. But surely a consultation such as this, to be effective, must be predicated on no options being closed down. Against that background and the themes running through this debate, we must take this issue out of politics. Several speakers suggested that we should have a commission on this. The Government are setting up a climate change body which will be independent of politics, because hard choices will have to be made there. Perhaps the same should happen with this issue. As the results of the consultation come in, an independent commission could be established. It could move away from the “hard on drugs/soft on drugs” arguments and produce the sort of result that all noble Lords speaking this evening would wish for—a result where the various types of substance harm no longer affect our younger generation and we can move forward into a much brighter future.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in saying that it has been a great privilege to be part of this debate tonight, and to have listened to acknowledged experts on all parts of the drugs scene. Like the noble Baroness, this is my first Home Office debate, and I look forward to many more of this standard. I also thank the Minister for bringing this debate to this House and his comprehensive introduction of the consultation paper. I agree with several noble Lords that his overview was somewhat complacent, particularly in light of what we have heard today.
The consultation, as has been said, has just ended. I have noted that it is intended that a response to it will be issued within three months, but that that response will appear on the Home Office website. To save all of us plodding through the website—and it is quite a plod—trying to find the responses and what the Government are proposing, perhaps the Minister can ensure that those of us involved in this debate might have that response sent to us. I also hope that, at the end, the Minister will be brave enough to bring those responses—and the Government’s response to them—back to this House so that we can have a further debate on what has emerged from the consultation.
No one underestimates the calamitous effect that the misuse of drugs has on young people, families, communities and crime, nor the difficulties in bringing it under control and limiting the damage that has been done to the lives of those involved. This debate has demonstrated that drug abuse is a real and dangerous threat to our society, despite the fact that the Government have devised significant policies to grip the problem. As has been underscored by number of speakers tonight, comparatively little progress in diminishing the situation has been made in effect. However we look at statistics and however much we quote different year starts and different statistics, the facts are alarming.
To throw out a few of my own statistics, which I am sure will be taken up and argued about by others, the United Kingdom currently has the highest level of problem drug use. As my noble friend Lord Mancroft pointed out in his excellent speech, it has the second highest level of drug-related deaths in Europe.
The economic cost from drug and alcohol abuse is estimated at about £39 billion a year. The British Crime Survey has reported a 14 per cent rise in drug offences over the last three months of 2007, which is a staggering increase of 66 per cent over 2003. The Home Office’s statistical bulletin on drug misuse shows that class A drug use has increased by 26 per cent since the Labour Government came into power and the number of young people who claim to have used cocaine over the past year has increased from 3.2 per cent in 1998 to 6.1 per cent in the latest statistics. That is a desperate picture.
Families of young drug users are becoming increasingly anxious at the lack of progress on bringing those rises to an end. I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the briefing that is to take place tomorrow afternoon in Portcullis House, mounted by families of young people who have used or are using cannabis. The organisation is called Talking About Cannabis. The Government’s decision to lower the classification of cannabis to class C—one which, effectively, carries no penalty—has left a lacuna in the hierarchy of drug offences. It was a decision that disregarded the dangers posed by new, high-strength strains of cannabis such as skunk, which causes, as we have heard, severe psychosis, personality changes and other mental illnesses.
It is debatable—I throw it out as my contribution to that debate—that if being in possession of or smoking cannabis carried a higher penalty, it would surely deter the shocking 35 per cent of under-15 year-olds who are believed to use it and who will be much more susceptible to other drug use later in life. I am therefore glad that the Minister has been able to reassure us that reconsideration is being given to the reclassification of cannabis as a class B drug. We can only hope that this matter will be taken very seriously and that the views of the parents who are meeting tomorrow will be taken into account. I appreciate that there are other views on reclassification and noted what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.
This becomes of even greater relevance when one notes the recent Joseph Rowntree report on cannabis. It shows that there is a widespread variation in the awareness among young people of the dangers of this drug, the downgrading of which has, I am afraid, led to mixed messages and muddle as to its effect. Spiralling drug abuse exists in a symbiotic relationship to spiralling crime. Sadly, that has become all too clear in the last few months as violent crime and gun crime have bought death and injury to young, innocent people on our streets. The Government, despite a whole host of measures—many of which are in this consultation document, from education programmes for the young to rehabilitative programmes for offenders—have failed to tackle this serious drug abuse, which means that a major cause of crime does not just persist but thrives.
I know that the Minister will agree that it is the human cost of drug abuse which is the most alarming. The pain and misery drugs cause to the lives of addicts and their family and friends is immeasurable. The amount of crime perpetrated by those desperate to support their habit accounts for almost half of all those committed to prison for offences from the most minor to the most grievous, and the number of children who have to be taken into care because of one or other parent being involved in drug-taking is a significant amount of a family court’s workload.
The Government’s consultation paper suggests that drug-related deaths have fallen from 1,538 in 1999 to 1,506 in 2005 and that there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the number of young people taking drugs. That seems to be slightly at odds with the figures I have quoted and others have mentioned tonight. But I put it to the Minister that after six years of a supposedly successful policy, saving only 32 lives, even if they are special, may not be entirely the progress which we would have wished for.
The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Adebowale, have great experience in the care of those needing treatment. I have known about Turning Point for many years and all that time I have had great admiration for the work the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, does in making sure that those on drugs and misusing substances get the care and support they need.
There are treatment programmes associated with criminal and social drug taking but a strong focus on abstinence seems to have been lost in the hierarchy of goals for treatment. Maintenance and management is often the option—whether for financial reasons, rather than for lack of facilities, is far from clear—rather than the tougher challenge of longer-term programmes which work to break the cycle of addiction. The result is that methadone has become the mainstay of the reply to drug dependency. It is administered as a measure intended to create stabilisation and ensure “retention to treatment”. However, most alarmingly, the number of methadone prescriptions in England has almost doubled from just under 1 million in 1995 to just under 2 million in 2004—they are the latest figures we have, but I dare say that 2006 will show that the figure has gone up again. That is an increase of 86.5 per cent.
As noble Lords will know, it is very difficult to get addicts off methadone; it is simply swapping an illegal drug for a legal one, but the crucial problem—the dependency—remains. One European study calculated that methadone was involved in 35 per cent of drug deaths. In the face of such facts, are the Government looking at better alternatives? We have been talking about places in residential care not being taken up. That is simply not acceptable. Residential care is the route for people becoming cured through the ability to maintain a long-term programme, and we must see whether money or programmes cannot bring that about in a better way. It is an important aspect of the treatment of people who are suffering from substance misuse.
We believe that drug addiction should not be tackled in isolation—that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale—but as part of addiction as a whole. Alcoholism is often the portal to other substance abuse, especially for children and adolescents, and needs to be figured into any strategy intended to tackle drug dependency.
The Government have correctly identified that educating the young about the dangers of drug abuse is a key weapon in the fight against addiction, and they must be commended for their establishment of information and advice helplines and websites such as www.talktofrank.com and the Department of Health’s teenage health demonstration sites as well as the Positive Futures programme and other programmes that get children out and, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, suggested, doing something active and using their physical strength.
Education needs to be reinforced by a campaign of deterrence. Have the Government considered using shock tactics on children to show the grave medical implications of addiction and spell out in very large, loud letters the implications of involvement in drugs? As my noble friend Lord Mancroft said, this consultation does not once mention preventing young people starting on the downward spiral.
The consultation paper points out that effective action requires a co-ordinated and flexible approach from all enforcement agencies and government departments. Estimates suggest that approximately 20 tonnes of heroin and 18 tonnes of cocaine are illegally smuggled through customs each year. The massive haul stopped by the Royal Navy last week demonstrates the necessity for constant vigilance.
We have had extremely thoughtful speeches today from the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Cobbold and Lord Jay, about the possibility of a commission looking at the entire problem. That is up to the Government to decide on, but it seems sensible at some stage for somebody to take on all the aspects of drug addiction from the minor to the major—and the major includes all the problems of poppy growing in Afghanistan, and the possibility, which I think is a revelation, of the poppy being used for regular and proper pharmaceutical purposes.
I look forward to the Minister's reply to what has been an extremely important debate. It has raised a huge number of questions, which went well beyond the limit of the consultation paper—perhaps everything about drug misuse always will go wider than that. But we have had some immensely useful contributions today, and I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with that.
My Lords, I start by thanking all who have taken part in a stimulating debate that has been, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, broad-ranging. I tried to make some notes on points raised by noble Lords during the course of it. I suppose that there was, certainly at the outset, a big theme that the consultation was simply wrongly based because it focused only on a strategy which believed in prohibition and did not examine issues relating to the potential for the legalisation of drugs.
The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said: “We are where we are”. The Government’s view is that legalisation is not a strategy that we wish to take on board. It is not an approach that we welcome for reasons which noble Lords have valuably summarised in their contributions.
My noble friend Lord Richard was disappointed with the paper. He said that he thought it was part of a failed policy. I take a different view. Views on the Government’s policy and strategy were certainly wide. There were those who thought we had made progress; those who thought we had made less progress; those who completely disagreed with the basis of it; and those who said we were looking at some of the wrong issues.
I was very interested in some of the contributions, particularly that made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on supply-side issues, which was echoed in part by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. And I always listen with great interest and care to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, says, not least because of his experience in the Prison Service—and lessons clearly need to be learnt from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, makes a very telling contribution when he talks about treatment regimes and some of those issues that we need to examine further. My noble friend Lord Brooke drew attention to the need to look at addiction in the round and not just separate out drug and alcohol addiction.
I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to the generality of Home Office debates, particularly the ones on drugs. I have taken part in perhaps too many debates, in some senses because I have had to deal with the matter for some eight years. Nevertheless, I recognise that the challenges change. The noble Baroness made the point that the threats change all the time, and that fashions and styles and interest in different drugs change over time. I was reflecting on my many years of taking an interest in the subject.
One thing is absolutely crystal clear to me; there is a tremendous amount of expertise in your Lordships’ House on the issue. It is expertise that should not be ignored because it clearly enables Government to think more broadly. As noble Lords made plain during the debate, we know that drugs have a profound effect on people’s health, their life chances, their family and their entire community. As such, it is a subject of tremendous complexity and one that is unique in the intensity of the debate to which it gives rise.
I take it from that that we should not seek to shy away from that debate. That is why the Government have sought out a range of views and opinions that can inform the development of the strategy. Noble Lords may be critical of that, and that is right, but we have tried to confront the issues and we think it right that we do so because it is in our interest to have a broad debate. In particular, I was interested in the notion that there should be an independent commission. I am not sure that that is a role for government, but the idea of drawing on broader views outside government, given the breadth of this debate, has merit in itself.
It is clear that the Government should continue to strive to get more people into treatment. No Member of your Lordships' House would demur from that. I do not think that anyone demurs from the need to protect communities from drug-related crime and nuisance and to provide young people with the information that they need to be able to resist drug use. I was pleased that there was support and encouragement for the Frank campaign, which has had an impact. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made that point. I know that my children are very aware of it. The elder of the three of them has been through both school and college. They are very aware of the impact of drugs and have found some of the information useful as they have grown older.
It is also clear what else should be done. People need additional services to support them to remain free of drugs. The particular needs of black and minority ethnic groups and other communities must be addressed. There needs to be a stronger focus on addressing the needs of young people. The purpose of the consultation exercise and this debate is to contribute to work that will develop a set of policies and actions that will individually and as part of a coherent strategy reduce the harms caused by drug misuse.
Legalisation or decriminalisation of any drug is not within the purview of the purpose of the consultation. That is not to say that it is a debate that should not be had, but the Government have made our position firmly known—several noble Lords referred directly to the comments of the Prime Minister, who made his position very clear. As I said, I am aware that there are those who are very critical of the Government's review of our drug strategy and are similarly critical of our stance on the legalisation of currently controlled drugs. They see the prohibition of the production, supply and possession of drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine as contributing to the misery of so many whose lives have been blighted by their use of such drugs.
I think that most legalisers would acknowledge—they appeared in the confines of this debate—the harmfulness of many currently controlled drugs. Some called for an evidence-based approach to the law relating to the prohibition of such drugs in the hope of a move towards a regulated supply of those drugs. Although we understand that point of view, we as a Government have to make a judgment on what is best for public health. Central to our thinking is our responsibility for protecting the health and welfare of the British public. We have taken the position that prohibition is the best means to do that and we have been unequivocal in our stance of having no intention of either decriminalising or legalising currently controlled drugs for recreational purposes.
In response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report, The Government's Drug Policy: Is It Working? in 2000—
My Lords, far be it from me to interrupt the Minister when he is in full flow, but he has made his position very clear to the whole House. He acknowledges that many of us here do not agree with that position. The difference is that we have explained why we have reached the conclusion that some of us—most of us, including me—arrived at. The noble Lord has said, “This is the Government's position and the Government are not going to budge from it”. Fine, I understand that, but can he answer a very simple question: why?
My Lords, because we believe that our policy is not only right but evidence-based and that we are making progress. I know that the noble Lord dissents from that view and that other noble Lords take a similar view to a greater or lesser degree. It is for that reason that we have begun to set out our strategy and decided to consult further on the way in which that strategy should be perfected.
To make our position plain—it is worth putting this on the record—we do not accept that legalisation and regulation are now, or will be, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister reinforced that view at the recent Labour Party conference when he said that,
“drugs are never going to be decriminalised”.
Legalisation is not open to us in view of our international obligations. I know that some noble Lords dissent from that, but that is our view. The current policy of prohibition on drugs is international and is governed by UN conventions that make unlawful the production and supply of many harmful drugs and limit possession exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. It would be wrong for us to lose sight of that perspective. There is no effective cost-benefit analysis of such a policy, if one could be made. Any such policy would need to address the international dimension.
The impact of legalisation on levels of consumption globally is key to any meaningful cost-benefit analysis. Without accurate figures for this, it is impossible to ascribe meaningful figures to the likely public and individual health cost or properly to assess the impact on productivity and industry or on the level of industrial or traffic accidents. Such fundamental difficulties call into question whether the task is an appropriate use of research funding. The impact of drugs on health is the only legitimate reason for control, and there is overwhelming evidence that the widespread use of these drugs worldwide results in enormous social harm and economic costs associated with that use. That includes the many thousands of drug-related deaths, the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C through injecting drugs, and the mental health disorders associated with the use of drugs.
The Government, like the international community generally, believe that the prohibition of narcotic and psychoactive drugs is a crucial element in keeping the level of drug use under control. Such drugs would become easier to access if they were to become legally available, and we would expect levels of use and the resultant harm and costs to individuals and society to expand significantly in the way in which alcohol and tobacco use has done. We do not intend to give a green light to such drug use. We do not take this robust stance lightly. We acknowledge that there are apparent benefits to an alternative system to prohibition, such as taxation, quality control and a reduction on the pressures on the criminal justice system, but in our view these are outweighed by the costs to the physical and mental health of individuals and society that result from dependence on, and addiction to, what are mind-altering drugs. Legalisation would not safeguard these very real public health interests or allay the concerns; nor would it necessarily significantly undermine international organised crime. For this reason, the Government will not pursue legalisation either domestically or internationally. It is all too easy to lay the problems of the use and misuse of drugs here and abroad simply at the door of prohibition.
My Lords, as we have heard in your Lordships’ House, there is clearly a debate in policing agencies. The views of the chief constable, which were quoted in the debate, are well known but are not generally held in ACPO. They are certainly not held by the majority in ACPO, which is fairly self-evident.
Many of the problems related to drugs are underpinned by poverty, unemployment and the erosion of family and community life. They are not created simply by prohibition. The Government are seeking to reduce the number of people who use drugs. The real impact on reducing drug use and drug harm has to be through the identification and setting of actions that will have the most impact. The Government’s view is that the national drug strategy itself, not law reform, has the real impact on reducing harm through education, prevention, early intervention, treatment and enforcement. Many of those issues were referred to in this evening’s debate. That is why the ongoing development of our drug strategy, following wide consultation, is such a priority. The national drug strategy is central to the Government's approach to drugs, drug use and drug harm reduction.
That is a cursory summary of responses to views expressed during the debate. I am conscious of the time and of the many questions that were asked during the course of the discussion. I shall try to answer some of them if the House will indulge me for a few more moments.
I want to make a point in reply to the query of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, regarding the consultation being on the Home Office website, because it was a fair point. Of course, we will publish and widely communicate the new drug strategy and I am sure that there will be more debates of this sort. We will also be making available through various means a summary of the consultation responses in line with the Cabinet Office codes of practice. It is important that we seek to do that.
The drug strategy itself comes to an end in March 2008, and we contend that there have been successes in terms of prevention, education, early intervention, treatment and enforcement. There is evidence to support that contention. I know that we have had a lot of statistics pushed into the debate this evening, but the British Crime Survey data for 2006-07 show that class A drug use among young people remains stable while the use of any illegal drug in the past year has fallen compared with 1998—down from 31.8 to 24.1 per cent. We argue that there is success. Schools survey data also show that for 11 to 15 year-olds, the use of any drug within the past year has fallen by some 17 per cent.
In terms of our strategy for treatment, record numbers of drug users are entering and staying in treatment—more than 195,000 in the past financial year. That is a 130 per cent increase on the 1998-99 baseline. A national treatment target of 170,000 people receiving treatment has been exceeded two years earlier than anticipated and we are on track to meet our target to direct 1,000 offenders a week into treatment through the criminal justice system.
Those are bold figures and I know that some noble Lords were critical of the treatment methods and techniques and argued for particular strategies to be adopted. I was interested in particular by the reference by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and others to the need to do far more in terms of residential treatment. I certainly do not disagree with that. It is certainly part of the Government’s strategy to increase access to residential treatment. We plan over the next period to fulfil our commitment to increase the availability of in-patient treatment and residential rehabilitation for substance misusers. In February, we announced a £54 million funding package to improve in-patient and residential treatment for drug and alcohol abusers and to ensure better access for that. That is certainly something that we see as an important priority.
The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, made a plea for what he described as “wrap-around” services. The Government are committed to ensuring that drug treatment is effective and that means that we make every effort to ensure that services are in place to support the gains made through treatment. It is certainly important to ensure, particularly with drug misusing offenders, that they receive support when they are released into the community and we need comprehensively to address that issue. That is part of our National Reducing Re-offending Delivery Plan and certainly part of our drug interventions programme, which aims to do exactly that.
Employment and benefit surgeries operate throughout the prison estate in England, Wales and Scotland. Jobcentre Plus advisers see prisoners on a one-to-one basis at both the induction and pre-release stages of their custodial sentence and provide help and support as do the other agencies. The Prospects programme is a three-year pilot programme which aims to reduce reoffending among drug misusing offenders who have been sentenced to 18 months imprisonment or less. That programme plays an important part in ensuring that we provide wrap-around treatment, because we recognise the importance of ensuring that there is proper after-care service for those who are released back into the community.
I was interested in particular in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on our strategy in Afghanistan. It is something on which we expect there to be continued debate over time, and the noble Lord was right to draw attention to the important comments made last week by my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown when responding on the issue of Afghani opium production. I repeat what has been said before: it is an issue for the Government of Afghanistan. We have to recognise that the poor security situation in the country means that there can be no guarantee that opium will not be smuggled out for the illicit narcotics trade. We agree with and support the Government of Afghanistan’s position and we are a designated partner nation to counter narcotics. We do not believe that licensing opium cultivation is a realistic solution to the problem of the opium economy in Afghanistan. It risks a high level of diversion of licit opium into illegal channels and would send a mixed message to farmers, undermining the effectiveness of the Afghanistan Government’s counter-narcotics campaign. We think that illicit cultivation could increase as a result.
There is also a question of whether it would be economically viable. As I said earlier, there has not been any systematic market testing across the world to calculate the demand for additional morphine-based medicines and as yet there is no evidence to show that Afghani opium would be price-competitive in a global marketplace. The UK supports the Government of Afghanistan in tackling the drugs problem—
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that those are exactly the sort of issues which ought now to be examined so that we can make a better, evidence-based assessment of whether there is a case, in the longer term, for controlled poppy cultivation in Afghanistan?
My Lords, it is a fair point to argue, and it may well be that there is a case for more research work, but it is important for us to support the Government on the ground. With all the problems the Afghanistan Government have to face, we owe them that. Our role is a valuable one. Indeed, in his speech the noble Lord referred to some of the valiant work being undertaken in support of that programme. Indeed, there have been some successes in terms of disrupting the drugs trade by targeting traffickers and trying to strengthen and diversify legal rural livelihoods. I see that as a strong point. I recognise that this is an issue, but it is a not strategy that we see ourselves agreeing with. However, we should perhaps review it from time to time.
Quite a lot of comment was made about insisting on an abstinence-based drug treatment approach. I understand the strength of feeling behind that. The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Brooke both referred to it. In fairness, one should observe that treatment is based on the assessed needs of individuals, and treatment plans are designed to meet those needs. We have to ensure that treatment programmes set out a plan to include the right sort of goal. That might be abstinence or, in the case of entrenched users, the prescription of substitute medication. I understand that that is a controversial view for some, but in certain cases there needs to be a managed change of behaviour. The use of substitute medication can play a part in that.
My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly on that. I believe that a whole variety of solutions have to be employed in assisting individual addicts, but the increasing concern of many people is that the view on abstinence within the industry, so to speak, is that in many respects it is opposed to it. Many people on methadone have told me that they are never given the opportunity to try to get clean.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a valid point which, in a sense, is a reflection of the debate. There are no easy answers for individuals and we must ensure that there is a range of treatment programmes available to facilitate people getting off drugs over time, away from the dangers that drugs bring to their lives and repairing the damage that they can do.
I am conscious that I have a sheaf of notes left which contains references to points and questions raised. However, because of the lateness of the hour and having been told that I have already run over time, I shall put together the other questions that have been asked about our strategy and our approach in a compendium letter, which I shall happily share with all Members of your Lordships’ House.
This has been a good debate. Although many views are at variance with the Government’s stated policy, it is important that we should continue to have debates such as this, not least because we may find some more answers to a problem which, for sure, is not going to go away. It is a part of a very complex set of issues relating to the use and abuse of drugs in our society. I am grateful to all who have taken part in the debate.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
UK Borders Bill
The Bill was returned from the Commons with the amendments agreed to.
House adjourned at 8.02 pm