Motion to Take Note
My Lords, the European Union Committee report on the European Union drugs strategy for 2013 to 2020 was published on 16 March of this year, and I am glad now to have the opportunity to bring it to your Lordships’ House for debate in my capacity as chairman of the Home Affairs sub-committee that conducted the inquiry. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for the Government’s full and helpful response to the report. In his letter of 10 May, he described our report as “extremely timely”, and so it was.
On 8 June, just a month later, the Council agreed that the EU did indeed need a new drugs strategy for 2013-20, and that it should be adopted by the end of this year. That in itself was a welcome development. Vice-president Reding, the commissioner responsible for this area of policy, described the strategy in somewhat slighting terms as,
“a nice piece of literature”—
and “wishful thinking”. We took a different view: that a new strategy was needed to show the direction in which the member states wished to go. The Danish presidency clearly agreed with that. The first draft of the strategy has already been discussed in the Council’s working group, and I understand that it is to be published shortly. So we got our views in ahead of the game, which is what this House should aim to do whenever possible with its thematic reports.
Our report made a number of recommendations, and I have time to refer to only a few of them. The point that I wish to emphasis the most, and to which we returned more than once, is the need for an informed and objective public debate on the drugs policies of the different member states as an integral part of the negotiation and adoption of the new drugs strategy. We were struck during the course of our inquiry by the paucity and poverty of any such public debate anywhere in Europe. This should be remedied.
In the course of our inquiry, we learnt about the policies of a number of member states, from the Swedish zero-tolerance approach to the experience of Portugal, where the possession of drugs for personal use was decriminalised in 2001. Portuguese law also greatly improved the harm reduction measures available to drug users. We took evidence from Jose Socrates, the former Prime Minister of Portugal who introduced that policy, and from the director of the Portuguese Institute for Drugs and Drug Dependency.
What the committee did not do was consider whether to make any recommendations for a change in the law of this country towards the decriminalisation of possession and use. That would have been outside the terms of reference of our EU committee, and we took no position on it. What we did was to urge forcefully that the formulation of a new EU drugs strategy offered a golden opportunity to widen the public debate on these different policies, in the hope of achieving a better meeting of minds on the best way forward in the EU in general and in this country in particular.
We stressed that such a debate should be “informed”, “objective” and “dispassionate”—and we chose those words with some care. The press have an important role to play. However, I am afraid that some organs of the United Kingdom press are notoriously lacking in objectivity on this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in her evidence, singled out the Daily Mail. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, told us that it had behaved “grossly irresponsibly”. In the unlikely event that the Daily Mail reports this debate, I shall no doubt be accused of seeking to have drug trafficking legalised. I hope not. Even the Daily Mail should recognise that there is an argument to be made that imprisoning drug users is not necessarily best for them, best for society, or even the best use of our prisons. That argument has nothing whatever to do with the legalisation of drug trafficking.
As I say, I hope that publication of the new EU strategy will trigger such a debate. I am not, however, overconfident of that. The Council has already, without any public debate, agreed on 19 points that will shape the strategy. None of them deals with national drugs policies. Nor should they, because the Commission and Council agree that this should remain within the competence of the member states. However, EU drugs policy is an impressive instance of subsidiarity and action, and we found no one who advocated changing it. Somewhere in the document that the Council has shaped up so far, though, there could and should have been some recognition that member states can learn from one another in formulating their policies.
Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he agrees, and if so what steps the Government can take to broaden the debate, both nationally and internationally. In that context, I welcome the initiative by the UK’s Drugs Policy Committee to hold a public debate on 19 November, entitled “New Generation, New Problems, New Drugs: Time for a New Approach”, at which the right honourable Oliver Letwin will make the keynote speech. I hope that that debate, including the Government’s contribution to it, will cover the international as well as the domestic aspects of the issue.
I turn to the question of new psychoactive substances, or NPS, as they are known. The Government’s action plan, published on 17 May, contained a commitment to ensuring that the new EU strategy includes activity to tackle the problem. To that extent we welcome it, but it does nothing to counter our criticism of the current EU legislation: that it is slow, cumbersome and ineffective. He pointed out that in the space of six years only two substances have been banned using the EU Council decision. It took the EU one and a half years to ban mephedrone. By that time, 15 member states including the UK had already banned it under their national laws. The Government have undertaken to promote robust co-ordinated action at EU level to tackle NPS. Does this include helping to design and implement a rapid and effective EU planning procedure?
The reduction of drug trafficking and the destruction of international criminal networks is, naturally, one of the objects of the current strategy and will undoubtedly be one of the objects of the next one. There is no doubt that the tracing and confiscation of the proceeds of crime is potentially one of the most powerful weapons in the armoury of states, although it has yet to fulfil that potential to the full. The role of Europol, which devotes something like one-third of its work to this field, is vital, and that is something that the Government will need to keep in mind as they conduct their audit of EU competencies and as they approach the Protocol 36 decision in 2014.
There are two additional steps that the Government could take on the confiscation of proceeds, and I hope that they will. The first relates to the draft directive on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. In a report published in April the committee recommended that the Government should opt into the draft directive. I repeated that when the report was debated on 22 May, and the recommendation that we should opt in was endorsed without dissent by this House. The draft directive was debated in another place on 12 June, and in advance of that debate the Government announced that they would not be opting in at this stage. I believe that that was putting political expediency ahead of the national interest. The key issue here is not whether we in this country already have in place all the measures in the draft directive—we have. Rather, it is whether we can shape the directive so that we can recover the proceeds of criminals who hold them in other member states. I hope that the Minister can assure me that when the negotiations are concluded and the directive is ready for adoption, the Government will revisit that decision and do so in a positive spirit.
The second step that the Government can take is one that they and their predecessors should have taken long ago: to sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention on money-laundering, the Warsaw convention. The committee has raised this question time and again in this House in taking evidence from Ministers and officials and in correspondence with Ministers, and I make no apology for returning to it yet again. The previous Government undertook to ratify the convention early in 2010. For this Government, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, assured the committee that he was pretty sure that the United Kingdom was compliant with the convention, but that the Home Office did not currently have the resources to review that. I asked him when the Government would sign the convention, to which he replied,
“I would hope we would do so within the next year or so but I am not going to be any more precise than that”.
The response to our report was in fact even weaker. The Government are confident that the work required to enable them to reach a fully informed position in respect of signing and ratifying will “progress significantly this year”. What does that mean? Surely it would not take much more than a week—or, I would suggest, the amount of time that it has taken to write the brief for the Minister and all the officials who came to our committee—to check to see whether there are in fact provisions of the convention not already implemented in our law. If any such provisions are found, steps can then be taken to remedy the situation.
A failure to sign one of the major international instruments for combating serious organised crime, including drug trafficking, frankly does not give the impression of a Government who take the fight against crime all that seriously. In the light of the issues raised by HSBC’s failure to enforce its own money-laundering procedures, that hardly seems to be the message we should be conveying at this moment. Our failure so far to sign and notify the Warsaw convention weakens our hand in pressing other European countries, which may well be a good deal less compliant than we are in this matter, to do so.
The Council’s conclusions state that,
“in formulating the new strategy appropriate consideration should be given to recommendations put forward by high-level scientific societies”.
The committee, alas, cannot claim to fall within that description, but we did take a great deal of high-level evidence on which to base our conclusions and recommendations. We hope that the Government will not only respond positively to them, as they have begun to do, but will help to persuade other member states to do so too.
I would not wish to conclude my remarks without paying a tribute to the work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, in Lisbon. EU agencies often come in for a good deal of flak, sometimes deservedly so. The EMCDDA seems to us to be performing a genuinely valuable function with modest resources. It is important that it be enabled to continue its excellent work.
Our report raised a number of serious questions. I have by no means referred to all of them. I hope the Minister will answer those questions, and I look forward to hearing his replies. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and his colleagues on the Select Committee on what is a really thorough and incredibly useful piece of work—one which we have not had before the House for a very long time. It makes some extremely useful recommendations and comes to some very helpful guiding conclusions, and I am grateful for the opportunity to debate it today. I would add to that my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on the way that he has introduced this debate. Were it not for the fact that my name is on the list and so I had better say something, I would not be speaking, as the noble Lord covered his report extremely well, and certainly covered all of the main points that need to be addressed. It is late on a Thursday afternoon and we have a long speakers list, so I shall try to keep my comments as short as possible.
It is very helpful that the report emphasised, at paragraph 26, that member states should continue to decide and enact health policies in respect to drugs. That is the position we have had for many years and have now, and it complements the position of the United Kingdom’s own national drugs policy, where the Government would like to see such decisions go further down, even to a local level. That co-ordinated approach is helpful.
The report’s conclusions in paragraph 27 are also extremely helpful. They concern the difficulty of amending a treaty signed by 180 countries, namely the United Nations conventions. This is important, because a lot of people and NGOs in this country and around Europe have been devoting quite a lot of time over the last four or five years on working to amend the conventions, or get them amended, on the basis that it is difficult to develop policies and strategies in this difficult and complex area while the conventions remain as they are. If we read the report before us today and its conclusions, we see that that is not so. By way of a very helpful example, the committee draws attention in paragraphs 30 to 34 to the different national policies in Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal and the Czech Republic. They are well worth looking at, because they demonstrate the flexibility within the conventions which many countries have not taken advantage of. Nor, certainly, have we, and we might well think about doing so.
The report refers to the EU strategy’s two “broad brush” objectives—which have been the policies of most nations, too—of restricting supply and reducing demand. These are indeed very broad brush. Reducing demand is left to subsidiarity and the individual member states. Where the European Union has played a significant role is in attempting to restrict supply. There is great co-operation between member states’ police forces and different agencies. Of course, one could always say that it could be improved, but it is an area where the strategy has been successful. However, as the report says, it is rather broad brush, and it would probably be more helpful if that broad brush were to become a slightly narrower brush.
On reducing supply, I would make two points only. First, the report makes a number of points on trafficking. I noticed and read carefully the Home Office’s evidence about that. Apparently, it has had great success in managing to stop drugs coming into this country and other European countries, to the effect that, for example, the purity of cocaine has significantly reduced and the price has gone up. Of course, this is good news and the Home Office should be congratulated on it. However, I have heard such statements from the Home Office many times during the past 25 years. I am sure that what it says is correct, but I note that it has had absolutely no effect on the amount of drugs that can be got on the streets of Britain and of other cities in Europe nor on the ease with which one can do so. I wonder whether that is an effective use of resources. That, too, has never been looked at.
The report also makes an interesting point about displacement which has not been taken into account previously; namely, that if security forces, be they customs or police, adopt a strategy for getting rid of trafficking in one particular area, it has the undesirable effect of moving it somewhere else. Within Europe, that could mean moving it to a part of Europe that has not had a serious drug problem so far. There are two examples of exactly the same problem occurring outside Europe. Only this week, we have heard that Honduras has now taken over as the murder capital of the world. The work that the Mexican and United States Governments have done to reduce trafficking in Mexico has caused enormous problems in Honduras, which did not have any problems previously. The second example is the work being done by the Americans and the Royal Navy in the Caribbean to stop that being a drug route for South American cocaine. It has been very successful, but it has displaced the problem to west Africa, which now has an appalling drug problem which it did not have 10 or 15 years ago. We must be careful not to recreate those problems in Europe. It is helpful that the report draws attention to them.
My main point rather echoes that made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and is about differences in national policies and what they mean. I draw attention to Sweden and the Netherlands, two countries which are often regarded as being at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to drug policies. I know both of them quite well and have spent quite a lot of time looking at policies in those countries during the past 20 years. They are very interesting and very different. Although Sweden is regarded as being hugely successful, it is the nature of the way that things happen there that a degree of its problems is not visible. I would not say that it has been swept under the carpet, which would be unkind and unfair, but it is like an iceberg—it is below the surface.
I do not necessarily think that the Swedish policy overall is quite as overwhelmingly successful as is presumed. My background is in drug treatment, and although a lot is talked about the success of the treatment system in Sweden, for a number of cultural and social reasons, that form of treatment, without going into the detail, would not be acceptable in this country. You could not do it. Equally, in the Netherlands, their approach to life, the way that they choose to live, and their morals and ethics, are very different from ours in Britain. Although what they have done is very interesting, and some people have asked why can we not do in London what they have done in Amsterdam, one of the things I have noticed is that you can learn from other countries—I wish we would learn more from them—but you cannot pick up another country’s policy and transpose it. We are not Los Angeles, Amsterdam or Stockholm, we are different. We can learn from them but we cannot do exactly as they do. That is an important thing to take on board.
Perhaps the most important part of this report for me was Chapter 5, which is devoted to Portugal. Everybody in the drugs field has something to say about Portugal—that it has either been a huge success or a great failure, depending on the position you started from. The interesting thing about this report is that it is so dispassionate and refuses to come to a conclusion, but recognises the importance of what has happened in Portugal, where there has been a reduction in the use of the criminal justice system, an increase in the treatment system and a resulting reduction in drug use. There has been a complete change in what has happened in that country. Could we do that here? I do not know. Nobody knows, because we have not done it. However, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when he referred to the fact that we have not had that debate. One of the reasons we have not had that debate is not only because of the irresponsibility of the press, which scares politicians off from doing it, but because important social debates of this sort need to be led by the political class, particularly by the Government of the day, and successive Governments for the last 20 years have declined to engage in this debate. They have not said whether it is right or wrong but have just refused to engage.
What this report says to us more than anything else is that there is a hugely important debate out there to be had. It could have an enormous effect, because the single biggest cost of the drug problem—an economic cost in these difficult economic times—is the criminal justice cost, which we are told by the Government is about £18 billion a year. If there is any possibility that we could save some of that money and save some of the people to whom that money is directed as individuals through healthcare—this Government are doing a great deal on healthcare and drugs—that is something we should be looking at. If there is one message that comes out of this excellent report for me, it is that we must have this debate and that it is worth while—but it must be led by the Government.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on his introductory speech, and him and his colleagues on this very good and balanced report. In the UK, certainly in some sections of the media, we live in a sort of EU-bashing country, but there are so many areas where pan-European co-operation is valuable, or indeed essential, and the fight against drugs is one of these. I agree with the basic conclusions of the report: that the European drugs strategy has been an important beginning but needs to be tightened up and refocused. As the noble Lord said, the work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is rightly praised in all quarters and should certainly be defended for the future.
This report comes at a time when something of a sea change in drugs policy seems to be happening around the world. The so-called war on drugs has been declared a failure, not only by the United Nations drugs agency but by the leaders of some of the main states originally propagating that war in Latin America and elsewhere.
The reasons are plain to see: a punitive approach to drug use often compounds problems of public health. In prison in many countries drug addiction is not treated, exchange of needles is not available and other treatments simply do not exist. Diseases such as HIV readily take hold. Many prisoners in different countries who were not drug users before become so in prison and, in fact, many overdose when they leave prison.
In the bulk of what I have to say I shall follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said and what the report says about Portugal, since there has been so much debate about that country’s policies among those who follow these issues, and rightly so. We now have a lot more evidence about the consequences of those policies than we had a few years ago. A good example is an in-depth study by a Polish author, Artur Domoslawski, called Drug Policy in Portugal. As the report says, Portugal is traditionally a quite conservative country, marked by the strong presence of the Catholic Church.
When drugs emerged as a serious problem in the 1970s and 1980s the country first adopted a classical repressive approach. The new strategy was implemented in laws passed in 2000 and 2001. These laws decriminalised drug use; drug trafficking remained a criminal offence. All this is well known. In place of criminal courts, dissuasion commissions were set up. These bodies seek to turn people away from drug use. They have the power to impose civil sanctions for those who refuse to attend: for example, they can take someone’s driving licence away and there are even worse civil penalties than that.
At the dissuasion commission a person’s history and his or her addiction issues are discussed and treatment options proposed. The aim, essentially, is to avoid stigma but at the same time to lock the person into a treatment pattern. It is rightly described by some of the contributors to this study not as a magical formula but as a specific framework on which work is ongoing. The Government in Portugal also established a large number of outreach programmes with the aim of limiting the spread of drug use in the first place. There are some 70 projects across the country, mostly carried out by NGOs funded by the state but operating locally. The evidence shows some clear positive outcomes, which were briefly mentioned by the noble Lord. For example, the percentage of drug users among those with HIV dropped from 52% in 2000 to 15% in 2010: a pretty large drop, but the numbers are not that great in the first place.
All this is interesting, but Portugal is a small country, its experiment with a public health approach to drug use is quite recent and we know that drug use is often cyclical, so all the data we have might in the here and now not be valid 10 or 15 years down the line. However, in another report from the Cato Institute, published in April, the conclusions I have just mentioned are quite forcefully backed up:
“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success”.
Quite rightly, I suppose, the report does not ask the Government to comment on this, but I would be interested to see what the Minister makes of the massive interest which has attended the Portuguese experiment and whether he thinks that it is directly relevant to this country. The UK Drug Policy Commission says:
“The UK invests remarkably little in independent evaluation of the impact of drug policies”.
Speaking as a social scientist, it is crucial to make such investments. Again, I would be interested to hear what the Minister says on this point. The commission also says,
“the United Kingdom remains at the top of the European ladder for drug use and drug dependence”.
In the light of government policy, perhaps he would like to comment on that statement too.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to say a few words about the report on the EU drugs strategy by Sub-committee F and, in doing so, pay tribute to the effective and experienced leadership of our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
We need to be realistic about the competence of the European Union and the objective of its drugs policy. It is not clear from the Government’s response whether they agree that neither of the two main objectives of the 2005-12 strategy, the reduction of demand and supply, has been achieved. According to the independent evaluation by the RAND Corporation, although there have been reductions in demand for cannabis and recently a slight decrease in cocaine consumption, there is little evidence on whether these successes can be attributed to the strategy and its action plans. It goes on to say that if there are trends on the supply side, there is no evidence that they can be attributed to the strategy or its action plans. That does not mean that the 2005-12 strategy was not of some value, but that we need more focused objectives, as has been said already, than the 158 actions in the strategy’s so-called “wish list”. The Government say that while it is necessary to articulate broad ambitions and guiding principles, they should be,
“underpinned by specific, and where possible, measurable objectives”.
The preparation of the next drugs strategy, which has to be ready by the end of 2012, falls on to the agenda of the Cyprus presidency over the next six months. With all respect to Cyprus, the APPG for Drug Policy Reform suggests that the Justice Directorate, which has the responsibility for drug control policy at EU level, should be taking the lead. It would be useful to hear from my noble kinsman the Minister what mechanism there is for the presidency to seek its input, and indeed that of the largest member states where drugs are a huge problem, in formulating the draft.
On the Government’s refusal to sign and ratify the convention on money laundering for the second time of asking, does my noble kinsman have anything to say about the scandal of HSBC’s dealings with Mexican drug barons, revealed in a US Senate report published on Monday, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay? Here, as in the US, financial institutions and their employees face civil and criminal penalties for failing to properly file suspicious activity reports. What steps are being taken to ensure that the SARs regime is not being widely flouted by HSBC here as it obviously was over there? Does he think that this disgraceful conduct reveals a need for tightening EU legislation on money-laundering?
One important recommendation by the committee on which the Government agree, for instance, is that greater use should be made of Europol’s databases. The Government say that they are calling for more voluntary information sharing between member states, but this is an area in which there could be a specific objective, to increase the proportion of information routed through Europol’s liaison bureau which is cross-checked with their central databases. There is no reason why that should not become routine, with specific encouragement, such as the publication of the percentage that is so cross-checked, broken down by member state.
The Government agree that the EU could do far more to reduce the supply of drugs through encouraging producing countries to diversify their agricultural economies away from illegal drugs. The Government quote the success of the UK-led project in Helmand province, Afghanistan, for supplying wheat seed to 160,000 farmers, and they say they are working to make alternative livelihood programmes sustainable for the long term. How can this be done, can my noble kinsman explain, after the UK has withdrawn from Afghanistan? If my noble kinsman says the scheme does not require the British presence, why is it working only in Helmand? Why is this a specifically UK project, when we are talking about an added emphasis in EU development policies? Can my noble kinsman quote any large-scale agricultural diversification projects sponsored by the EU in Latin America, and is there scope for co-operation between the EU and the US in this area which is so clearly of mutual benefit?
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has already said, one alarming development which has occurred during the present EU strategy is the appearance of an ever-increasing array of new psychoactive substances, the NPSs. The EMCDDA, whose work, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said impressed the committee greatly during our visit to Lisbon, reports that in 2011, 49 NPSs were notified, compared with 41 in 2010 and a mere 24 in 2009. The European Commission says that it will propose stronger EU legislation on these products, which are freely sold on the internet and in clubs, taking into account scientific evidence on the risks that they pose. Mephedrone and BZP, for instance, are identified as potentially harmful, but how can we or the EU satisfactorily assess the effects of substances coming on to the market at such a rate, particularly when some of them may have cumulative or delayed-action consequences for the user? Would my noble friend say if we attended the EU-US meeting in June on new drugs, and what conclusions were reached there?
As an aside, what is the Government’s current thinking on the drug khat? A thoughtful article by Howard Swains in the Independent magazine suggests that banning khat would mean the imprisonment of more Somalis, damaging their job prospects and creating a recruiting ground for al-Shabaab. However, regulating supply and applying health and safety laws to the mafrish where khat is chewed would help both legitimate suppliers and consumers. Probably the UK is the largest market in Europe for this drug and we could pave the way for European regulation, perhaps also for other relatively less harmful drugs as well as khat. The Government responded to the committee's suggestion of exploring alternatives to banning new psychoactive substances—such as regulating them as we do alcohol and tobacco—by saying that they were going to publish an NPS action plan in May. Will the Minister say whether our proposal has been taken up and how the Government action plan dovetails with the Commission's report on the information exchange, risk assessment and control of NPSs, published on 11 July?
As has already been mentioned, the Committee recommended prioritising the evaluation of harm reduction strategies. The Government replied that there must be caution in the absence of more robust and comparable evidence. It would be a mistake to neglect the Portuguese and Czech experience and similarly other member states could benefit from the development of an evaluation framework setting out the evidence base and assessing the value for money of our own 2010 drugs strategy. It should be a matter for discussion whether this is best achieved by promoting a European area network on illicit drugs to improve co-operation in drugs research—as the Government suggest—or perhaps by extending the remit of the EMCDDA. The EMCDDA already reports on drugs research, as for example on the use of supervised injectable heroin treatment for a small group of heroin users formerly thought to be untreatable. One thing is certain and that is that the problem of dangerous drugs is international. The Committee and the Government are agreed on the value of a comprehensive EU drugs strategy and the framework it creates for practical co-operation between member states.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for drawing our attention to the report of the European Union Committee on the EU drugs strategy and for introducing this debate with such vigour. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse—the NTA. It was set up as a special health authority in 2000 to improve the availability, capacity and the effectiveness of drug treatment in England and has had notable successes. Chief among them has been the doubling of the number of people in treatment since its inception and the dramatic reduction of waiting times. From April 2013, the National Treatment Agency’s key functions will be taken over by a new body with a wider remit, Public Health England. However, the NTA, with its limited remit of treatment issues, has provided support in developing a drugs strategy in England. Today I shall draw on some of our experiences.
The report before us recognises—indeed, emphasises —that drug policies and their remit should remain within the competencies of member states, which is surely right. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, emphasised, we cannot simply transfer policies from one country to another. Countries are quite different in many respects. I hope that the report will not just be a nice piece of literature but will inspire debate. The EU strategy touches on aspects that are of importance to drugs strategies across the world. Many of these aspects are covered by drugs strategies for England, although some of the concerns are beyond the remit of my agency, the National Treatment Agency. As a government agency, the NTA is bound by government policy and, as such, has no separate view on some of the substantive issues raised by the EU Committee’s report such as decriminalisation and drug trafficking. I shall therefore limit my remarks today.
One important issue that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is money. As the report points out, tackling drug use effectively saves large sums of money. We in England have done extensive research on the economic aspects of drug treatment and it is estimated that for every pound spent on drug treatment alone, approximately £9 is saved. Savings to the NHS and savings from tackling drug-induced crimes are enormous.
The scale and quality of drug treatment and recovery services in England, provided by not only the NHS but the voluntary sector, is admired by experts across the rest of the world. I shall draw on that expertise in sharing some observations today. I welcome the committee’s report and agree with much of it. However, I shall put two particular issues raised by the committee under the spotlight of further scrutiny: first, the adequacy of statistics and, secondly, the role of harm reduction in public health.
I start with statistics because the report calls for an improvement in the quality and comparability of national statistics. It suggests the UK may need to change the way in which it collects data so that EU-wide statistics are more consistent. It is difficult to disagree with this wider European aim but we should not infer from it that there is anything wrong with the accuracy or scope of our own national statistics. I declare another interest here: the NTA is responsible for running the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, one of the most comprehensive data sets in the NHS. Its findings are independently evaluated and validated by the National Drug Evidence Centre at the University of Manchester and published as national statistics. A close study of the EU Committee report shows that it is not criticising our statistics on drug treatment at all. Where the committee finds fault is in the provision of figures on the prevalence of drug use, which is a completely different matter. I welcome the opportunity to make this distinction and clear up any confusion that there may be.
In this country, the British Crime Survey estimates drug use among the general population. It is notoriously difficult to measure drug use, not least because it is a covert, criminal activity. The British Crime Survey suggests that the trend in class A drug use is static, with about 3% of people admitting to using class A drugs in the past year, mainly powder cocaine.
To understand what is happening in more detail, the Home Office and the NTA have commissioned independent experts from the University of Glasgow to estimate the number of the most problematic drug users—heroin and crack addicts—who would benefit from specialist treatment. The ongoing research suggests there has been a significant fall in the number of people in England who are addicted to these problematic drugs, from a peak of 332,000 in the middle of the previous decade to 306,000 at the last count. This trend is echoed in the demand for treatment services, as measured by the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System. The number in treatment is falling, from a peak of 211,000 in 2008-09 to an anticipated 198,000 in 2011-12. In particular, we are seeing a steady reduction in the number of heroin users entering treatment for the first time. This has fallen from 48,000 in 2005-06 to a predicted—I emphasise that—estimate of 9,000 this year. At the same time, waiting times remain low. On average someone can access a treatment programme within five days of being referred. The proportion of clients waiting more than three weeks to start treatment is 2%: the lowest ever.
What all this means is that the drug treatment system in England continues to respond quickly to demand, but that the nature of this demand is changing. With fewer new clients coming into treatment, the challenge for the future is overcoming addiction among an increasing proportion of older, entrenched ex-users already in the system, who by definition are more complex to treat. Any drugs strategy in any country must take account of the realities of drug use at a particular time. While it may be difficult to compare statistics about drug use across Europe, we can be extremely confident that we know what is happening about drug treatment in England and we have a positive story to tell.
This brings me to the committee’s point about harm reduction and decriminalisation. The report says that members were impressed by the evidence from Portugal on the effectiveness of its public-health-oriented national strategy. They noted that harm reduction and public health policies were increasingly being adopted internationally, and suggested that EU member states should learn more from each other. As I said, the National Treatment Agency has no view on whether a policy of decriminalisation would be beneficial in this country. However, what is often forgotten in the debate on decriminalisation is that in England we already tackle drug dependency as a public health issue.
What has happened in Portugal as a consequence of changing the law on the possession and use of drugs is comparable with what already happens in England, within a different criminal jurisdiction that makes illegal the use of and trade in dangerous drugs. In both countries treatment has been expanded. Portugal changed the law in 2001 in order to expand treatment. In England, treatment was expanded in the same period within an existing legal framework. Unfortunately the benefits of our public health approach too often get lost in controversy over whether we have lost the so-called war on drugs, or whether we should legalise particular substances. The fact is that in England there has been a steady increase each year in the number of people overcoming addiction and embarking on the road to recovery. In 2010-11 the official statistics showed that 28,000 individuals successfully completed treatment, an 18% increase on the previous year. Information given to the NTA board indicates the equivalent figure for 2011-12 is anticipated to be almost 30,000, among them an increasing group of opiate users, who are the hardest to support.
I agree with the view of the committee that the EU drugs strategy should improve the collection of information so that member states can learn from each others’ experiences. I also agree that the new strategy should use the EU’s public health obligations to further the inclusion of harm-reduction measures in national policies. In England, we are already successfully demonstrating the benefits of a public health approach through our existing data. I welcome the opportunity to call attention to a track record in treatment and recovery that many other countries would envy, and I hope that the Minister agrees.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for introducing this debate. Reports from his sub-committee of the European Union Committee have demonstrated a move in a positive direction. The debate which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has indicated is lacking in this country needs to be accelerated and made more audible. Illegal drug trafficking is the biggest trade in the world. The harm it does is scarcely measurable because the victims do not always come forward to indicate what has happened to them.
The report appears to make some very powerful points and, to some extent, I am a novice in this area. It is novel but highly welcome that the report, at paragraph 97, supports,
“the exploration of alternatives to … new psychoactive substances, such as placing them within regulated markets similar to those that already exist for alcohol and tobacco, which attempt to control use through education and treatment rather than criminalisation”.
The report is also helpful in displaying the evidence which was given by some of the most authoritative voices about this subject, such as that of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in its 2010 report, From Coercion to Cohesion. Its executive director, Mr Costa, said:
“Moving from a sanction-oriented approach to a health-oriented one is consistent with the international drug control conventions”.
That seems to me to be a lesson that this country needs to learn.
I very much hope that this committee’s report will constitute a prelude to a discussion about the treatment of drug addicts in this country. Although we wholly understand the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the committee that this was not part of their mandate to consider, none the less, when we get into discussion within the European Union about what the shape of that European policy should be, we will certainly be listened to if we are seen to be open to the arguments being deployed by those who are most knowledgeable and are sensitive to the possibilities of development of this policy in our own country.
It seems that the cost of drug addiction is not properly understood by the public in terms of the scale of its impact on our economy, although it is perhaps understood in terms of its impact on individuals. I found the economic analysis of costs and consequence of treatment of drug misuse from a National Treatment Outcome Research Study very telling. It reported that illegal drug taking requires a workforce of 5,000 customs officers and 18,000 police officers. More startling, it states that the victim costs of drug-related crime were £9.7 billion annually. That paper was produced by Messrs Godfrey, Stewart and Gossop.
I have also found extremely compelling the arguments deployed by a very personally involved practitioner of drug treatment, Mr Max Rendall. He wrote a book, published in the autumn of last year, entitled Legalize: The Only Way to Combat Drugs. The book is very well researched and forcefully makes the case for diminishing the attitude that drug abusers are criminals and strengthening the concept that they should be regarded rather as patients. That is also the message that comes out of the report of the sub-committee.
The presumption I make in intervening in this debate is that this is a subject for non-experts as well as experts, because the problem is of such a massive cost to our country that we have to get across the need to deal with it. I am happy that in the Government’s response to this paper the Minister included a reply that the Government wish to combine their legislative approach with drug demand reduction, supply restriction and recovery-focused treatment approaches, to address the complex issues that harmful drug use poses. It has to be recognised—and it was by the report—that there has been no appreciable decline in demand flowing from the EU drug strategy of the past seven years. We must address that deficiency. The Government can make a significant impact on public opinion in this country and should look again at the possibility of legalising the taking of drugs. That will enable regulation to be much more effective than it can be in the present situation.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his colleagues, both on the substance of their report, which is informed and realistic, and no less importantly, on its tone, which is reasonable and humane.
We should of course give praise where it is due to operational successes in dealing with drug traffickers, and acknowledge progress—for example the progress that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, described—in treatment. However, we should also recognise that we are considering here an area of colossal policy failure since the orthodoxies of policy were established across the world in the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, and President Nixon’s declaration of a war on drugs in 1971.
Worldwide, there are 210 million users of narcotics, vast numbers of whom are criminalised. There are some 2.8 million drug users suffering from HIV and AIDS. The Count the Costs website counts the costs of drugs across the world in terms of health, crime, the economy, development, the environment, security and human rights. There is a useful paragraph in the Select Committee’s report alluding to the situation in Iran as reported by Amnesty International, where the human rights of drug users or suspected drug users have been violated in a programme of activity actually supported by European Union aid.
The United Nations calculated the cost of the global drugs problem in 2003 as $321.6 billion. SOCA in this country has estimated the social and economic cost in the UK to be £17.7 billion a year. The Government tell us that more than 50% of perpetrators of property crime are users of heroin and cocaine. Great swathes of Latin America have been devastated by crime, military repression, corruption and the atrocities of gang conflict—all associated with drugs. In Mexico, between 2006 and 2011, there were 47,000 deaths. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, told us, the displacement as a result of reasonably successful interdiction of drug trafficking in some parts of the world has wrought havoc in Equatorial Guinea in west Africa.
The report tells us that,
“over the EU as a whole, and over the seven years of this Strategy, there has been no overall demand reduction”.
It goes on to say that,
“we have not seen evidence to suggest that there has been any measurable overall reduction in supply”.
The report last year of the Global Commission on Drugs Policy stated:
“Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption”.
As the report notes, policies across the European Union are inconsistent. EU efforts to reduce demand and supply and to influence policy across the world are therefore ineffectual.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, of which I am a member, held a conference last autumn. Our group is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I pay tribute to her for her remarkable work in this field. I know how very much she regrets that, because she is engaged in other public service duties this afternoon, she is unable to join your Lordships’ debate. Our conference was attended by eminent people from across the world, including members of the global commission, and politicians and officials from Latin America and Europe. Unfortunately, no Minister of the United Kingdom was able to attend. We agreed at that conference, just as the Select Committee has agreed, on the need for evidence-based, rational and proportionate policies to reduce harm and protect those who are susceptible to drugs.
Let me emphasise, in case there should be any misunderstanding, that I strongly believe that policy and enforcement should be implacable in relation to organised crime and systematic drug trafficking. We should give all the support we can to Europol, for instance, to enable it to perform as it needs to do on money laundering—the revelations about HSBC underscore the importance of that—and to seize the proceeds of drug trafficking and the drug themselves. Given that there is subsidiarity in this policy field in the European Union, let us at least learn from the diversity of policies among the member states. We need more research. The committee found that the work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is a bright spot. It is important that in the next European Union drugs strategy there should be sufficient funding for the monitoring centre to enable it to develop its excellent work so that it can produce better data sets and more effective comparative data, which does not imply that we need to discard the longitudinal series of data that have been built up within the member states. The centre needs a capacity to evaluate and to make cost-benefit analysis, for example of the Portuguese experience, which should be done, of course, on a factual and dispassionate basis. I am glad that the Government agree that that would be useful.
The experience of the Czech Republic is an excellent example of evidence-based policy. In 1998, the Czech Republic decided to criminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. However, it wisely followed that enactment by a two-year cost-benefit analysis of the effect in practice—what we call in this House post-legislative scrutiny. They found that the availability of drugs had increased, that the use of drugs had increased, that the numbers of new users of drugs had increased, and that social costs had increased. Very rationally, in 2010, it decriminalised the possession of drugs for personal use. Some 35 countries have decriminalised, including Spain, and a number of states of the United States of America. Within the European Union, Germany, Estonia and Lithuania are tiptoeing in that direction. I would like to emphasise, just as the report does, that:
“Decriminalisation needs to be distinguished from legalisation, which is prohibited under the UN Conventions. Drugs are not legalised; instead, criminal penalties associated with the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use, and the use of those drugs, are replaced by civil penalties such as requirements to attend treatment programmes”.
The experience of Portugal should be instructive to us, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, explained to us, and other noble Lords. It took the decision in 2001 to decriminalise drugs for personal use. Instead, there were to be civil penalties, and of course the work of the dissuasion committees; it made a commitment, on a large scale, to treatment and harm reduction. Mr Goulão, who gave evidence to the committee, and also gave evidence at our conference, said,
“a drug addict is mainly someone who needs health and social support rather than criminal conviction”.
Very importantly, the experience in Portugal has been that the commitment to treatment and harm reduction is cheaper. This matters at any time, but particularly in a period of austerity. The costs of treatment were,
“far outweighed by the savings to the criminal justice system”,
the courts, and prisons; by the reduction in the incidence in HIV and AIDS; and by having drug users engaged in society and the economy, instead of being marginalised.
In Switzerland—outside the European Union, of course—there has been a programme of injecting heroin users with diamorphine, leading to improvements in health, less drug usage and less crime; and those findings are endorsed by studies here by King’s College London of differential treatments for chaotic heroin users.
One of the difficulties in this country is that policy has gone to and fro, and sent out conflicting signals; for example, with the regrading of cannabis: first as a class B drug, then as a class C drug, and then again as a class B drug. I am encouraged by the evidence given by the Home Office to the committee that for every £1 we invest in drug treatment, at least £2.50 is saved in reductions in crime and other costs. My noble friend Lady Massey suggested that the savings were even larger; so the question is, are we investing enough? We are doing well, I understand, but could we do significantly better? We do need rational public debate. Policy-making is made very difficult by the attitude of certain elements of the media. The editor of the Daily Mail declined to meet the All-Party Group on Drug Policy Reform. It may make it easier to sell papers, but it is not constructive to demonise drug users. I very much endorse the finding of your Lordships’ committee that,
“the formulation and adoption of a new Drugs Strategy by the EU offers a golden opportunity to widen the public debate, to consider as dispassionately as possible the different policies and approaches, and thus to achieve a better consensus about the best way of proceeding”.
But will the British media allow us to develop the argument in this way?
The committee noted that tobacco kills 5 million people a year; alcohol 2.5 million people a year. These are huge problems, but nobody is suggesting that we should criminalise the consumption of tobacco or alcohol. They noted that drugs kill about 500,000 people a year. The consumption of drugs in this country is criminalised.
It seems to me that the benefits of decriminalising possession and using regulation would be to release users from the embrace of the criminals and cut the ground from under this vast and murderous criminal industry. It would make it much more possible to increase advice and help for users and get more of them into treatment. It would enable control of the composition and quality of the substances that are consumed, and there would be the benefit of tax revenue from that consumption. No society has ever been drug-free and the strategy should be one of damage limitation. So I am disappointed by the Government’s response to the sub-committee, which says that decriminalisation,
“fails to recognise the complexity of the problem”.
Continuing with criminalisation fails to recognise the failure hitherto, and no one who advocates decriminalisation disputes the complexity.
The issue of new psychoactive substances, “legal highs” as they are popularly known, is an immensely difficult, complex and important challenge. The New Psychoactive Substances Action Plan produced by the Government sketches elements of a sensible strategy and has good features such as temporary bans while not criminalising users and only banning where the harms are established. But this is a dangerous and massive challenge. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform is holding an inquiry at the present time, and I hope that our conclusions will in due course be helpful.
I want to ask the Minister whether he considers that we might do better if the Department of Health in this country and the directorate of the European Commission that leads on health were to lead on drugs policy, because drugs are, after all, primarily a health issue. There are signs of movement in international thinking. The UK’s own drug strategy lays considerable emphasis on treatment and education. At the March meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs there was an Australian resolution calling for the UN to consider a wide variety of evidence-based control measures to tackle the emergence of new psychoactive substances and increase the use of consumer protection. It was agreed that all options should be on the table for addressing new psychoactive substances. UNODC Executive Director Fedotov said:
“We must restore the balance … Prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration and health have to be recognized”.
Will the UK Government play a full and willing part in that movement of opinion and policy, and will the new European Union strategy similarly assist that process and that progress?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on this report, which, given the number of people who are involved in this debate, shows how vital this issue is. During my short time as a practising economist, one of the things I learnt about markets was that while states can regulate them, they certainly cannot abolish them; where there is demand, there is always supply. That applies to the area of drugs probably more than anywhere else. It is an irony that the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs signed in 1961 and the subsequent war on drugs have been pushed particularly strongly by the United States, the country we see as the bastion of capitalism and markets, but there is an absolute contradiction here. The convention was implemented in 1964 and in theory there should be no global drugs market at all because the convention was signed by the vast majority of the members of the United Nations.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has said, the drugs market was worth $320 billion back in 2003, but perhaps what is more important—and I suspect that I am underestimating it—is that it represented 1% of GDP. In 2009 the market for cocaine was estimated to be worth around $85 billion, which can be compared with the income of Andean farmers at around $1 billion. There is a huge market in South America. Of that laundered money, which at today’s value is something in excess of half a trillion dollars, under 1% is actually seized during its transit by authorities, so 99% of it is recycled into organised crime. The report is very clear—and it has been mentioned by a number of other noble Lords—that, in terms of supply and demand, the existing EU strategy has had no noticeable effect whatever.
I was also interested in the statistics at the beginning of the report that suggest that almost one-quarter of EU citizens have admitted to using drugs, and one in 20 on an ongoing, annual basis. That suggests that whether we like it or not, drug taking—I suspect mainly so-called soft drugs—is a part of our culture and of life. However, simply because the law is transgressed, does not mean that we should endorse drug taking. I am sure many of us break the speeding limit, but that does not mean that we should not have speed limits as part of the rules of driving. However, there is an issue there about what we make legal and illegal.
One of the results of this policy, and the area that I will concentrate on, concerns consumer countries. We have black markets and we have health risks—because there is no quality control, taking drugs is more dangerous under a prohibition regime. There is no consumer advice. The activity produces criminals—in the United States it is estimated that one in four imprisonments is drugs-related and in the UK maybe up to 50% of crimes have some relation to drugs. We also have organised crime as part of our infrastructure. Perhaps more importantly, in producer countries we have already mentioned the 47,000 or 48,000 Mexicans who have been murdered during the presidency of President Calderón over the past six years, and 95% of all murders in Mexico are drugs related.
I very much welcome the comments of my noble friend Lord Mancroft about transit countries. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. I chair the all-party group of a country that is not well known—Guinea-Bissau, an ex-Portuguese colony in west Africa. It is a state that has failed in many ways and has become a main route for drugs from South America into Europe. As a result, that society has disintegrated even more; corruption is strong and the military within the country has become a state within a state and is largely financed through the drugs trade. In those countries, we have not only drug habits but much greater corruption.
One of the most important paragraphs in the report, paragraph 64, quotes Youngers and Rosin in 2005, who say that,
“international drug trafficking breeds criminality and exacerbates political violence, greatly increasing problems of citizen security and tearing at the social fabric of communities and neighbourhoods. It has corrupted and further weakened local governments, judiciaries and police forces … it can be extremely damaging to local environments”.
This issue of displacement—I welcome its emphasis in this report—shows the great difficulty of this policy. When we clamp down in one area, it destroys another without mending the societies where the problem has been solved from a consumer state’s point of view.
I would probably disagree with noble Lords so far—I disagree with the report in this regard—about one area, which comes back to practical economics. One cannot decriminalise the consumption of drugs and keep the criminalisation of the supply chain. What happens in that circumstance is that one sits slightly more smugly as a consumer in your population, but you still lay waste to the developing world and the transit countries through which those supply chains operate, because no difference is made to the way the system operates there.
That is why this issue is particularly difficult and there are no easy answers. There are huge political risks —the newspaper issue in the UK has been mentioned by the noble Lord many times—but the system has failed, and now we have an international network of organised crime.
I am impressed by what the noble Lord is saying, but could he help us by clarifying this issue? If he does not accept that you can decriminalise the taking of drugs while keeping the criminalisation of the trade in drugs, how does he compare that with the situation in which the illicit black market in tobacco is criminalised?
You will never completely take away criminalisation, but perhaps the least damaging solution—again, I am not pretending that there are any easy answers regarding the supply chain—is to have pharmaceutical companies becoming distributors of drugs like any other prescription drugs. Will you ever completely decriminalise something where there is high taxation or smuggling? The taxation-hedging that takes place is perhaps more the issue than the question of VAT on drugs like alcohol or tobacco, and is perhaps the area where you have to be more careful.
There is an international network of organised crime involving money-laundering; corruption; human misery, of course; and a very large black economy. More than that, though, we have reduced liquidity within that black market which allows arms trafficking, people trafficking and terrorism. You can regulate markets but you cannot abolish them. I agree very much with the report’s conclusions in general but I would very much like to see the EU lead this debate internationally into much more realistic waters for the future. I particularly agree with this part of the Government’s response, which reads:
“It is vital that this debate is focussed on clear evidence and analysis and we will continue to champion the use of evidence at local, national and international level”.
However, the track record of UK Governments on evidence-based drugs policy has been particularly bad.
My Lords, I join those who welcome the European Union Committee’s 26th report of Session 2010-12. It is an excellent document and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the members of the committee on its creation. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and her team on the detailed response that they have produced and circulated to our meeting today on all aspects of the report. I am only sorry that she is unable to be with us today. She has, however, asked me to deliver her speech to the meeting today in her absence:
“I, Baroness Meacher, am profoundly sorry not to be able to be present today for this important debate on Lord Hannay’s valuable European Union Committee report on European drug strategy”.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is to be applauded for the steering this inquiry through challenging territory and for ensuring that the report says so many useful things. I hope very much that the Minister will feel able to respond positively to the report, with some concrete proposals for action within the UK. It is helpful that the Hannay report proposes that most aspects of drug policy should remain within the competence of member states, rather than at this time attempting a pan-European reform strategy. European states like Portugal, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Spain have shown the way to the rest of the world in developing and evaluating more health-orientated and cost-effective drug policies that seek to avoid criminalising problematic drug users. Individual member states could learn from those countries and take action. This would no doubt be more difficult at the EU level. Having said that, it would be most helpful if the EU would undertake a review of the best drug policies across Europe, with a view to drawing up a scientific document setting out the evidence of what works.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform agrees with the Hannay report that the EU’s early warning system on newly developed psychoactive substances within member states and beyond is of considerable importance. In our inquiry into possible regulatory controls over these substances, it has become apparent that speedy access to information about new substances is a vital prerequisite to taking any appropriate action. Our inquiry has highlighted the importance of information for potential users of the new psychoactive substances, and for their parents, teachers and other influential adults, in reducing use. We particularly welcome the support from the Hannay committee for,
“the exploration of alternatives to banning new psychoactive substances, such as placing them within regulated markets similar to those that already exist for alcohol and tobacco, which attempt to control use through education and treatment rather than criminalisation”.
Our report, in the autumn, will be considering very carefully the pros and cons of different regulatory systems, as well as their implications for use of these substances among young people. An important issue for all EU countries is whether banning the supply of specified new psychoactive substances should be linked to the banning of use, with all the negative consequences that that entails.
Again, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform warmly welcomes the positive comments of the Hannay report on the Portuguese public-health orientated national drug strategy and the encouragement to member states to study each other’s policies and to be more willing to learn from one another. It also welcomes the committee’s support for prioritising the evaluation of drug strategies. At this time of austerity, it will be important to evaluate the costs and benefits of allocating resources to health-based policies rather than to criminal justice responses.
Will the Minister agree to an evaluation of the possible decriminalisation of drug use in the UK—which is of course quite different from legalisation—as a possible response to the growing evidence of the cost effectiveness of such policies? The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly raises the issue of the location of responsibility for drug policy within Europe. The report goes further and says that the EU strategy,
“offers a golden opportunity to widen the public debate, to consider as dispassionately as possible the different policies and approaches”.
These are most valuable observations. The same issues apply to individual member states. Again, it would be most helpful if the UK Government would establish an independent review committee to consider the appropriateness of the Home Office as the lead department for drug policy in this country. There are alternative models within Europe and an evaluation of these would be helpful. Following the reasoning of the Hannay report, it would of course be wise to incorporate this matter within a wider review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Again, I offer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his committee.
My Lords, I speak as a member of Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I would like to pay tribute to his leadership and chairmanship, which is always outstanding. Indeed, I think that the way in which the report has been welcomed, and the plaudits that it has received, indicate how much appreciation there is for what he has done.
I hope that those who are interested in this subject will not only read the report but will read the evidence that was submitted to the committee. A lot of work went into much of that evidence and it should not just be cast to one side. It contains some very interesting reflections of experience. I, for one—and it is not only in this sphere that I have noticed it—found an interesting difference of perspective between those dealing with the issue at a global policy level and those dealing with it at the front line of people affected by drugs. I think that your Lordships would find it refreshing to read the evidence given by the Reverend Eric Blakebrough, who is at the forefront of working with drug addicts. What he had to say was extremely illuminating.
As has come across in this debate, a review of global drug policy is clearly overdue. As some noble Lords have emphasised, the Global Commission on Drug Policies has said this, too. It is significant, and we would be remiss not to take it seriously, that states such as Guatemala, Colombia and Uruguay, which face many of the consequences of what we are debating, are calling for an urgent debate of this kind. If there is to be a debate, the European Union should certainly take a lead in it.
Our report is an absolute reflection of the consensus that was reached. I attach great significance to those sentences where we talk about the health dimension being at least as important as the enforcement dimension. I wish that the debate could move more into the role of health. Since our report was published, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has commended the Portuguese approach. The cost benefits of a health-focused, rather than a criminal justice-focused, approach are particularly relevant at a time of so much economic stringency and cuts in public funds, because we must be certain that the money being spent is not being wasted and is being used as cost-effectively as possible.
As my noble friend Lord Howarth was sharing his thoughts on decriminalisation, my thoughts immediately turned to the report. There in chapter 1—I hope that the House will forgive me if I quote from it—we deal with exactly that, stating:
“It is instructive to compare illegal narcotic drugs with two psychoactive drugs which are legal and openly commercially available: alcohol and tobacco. Worldwide, one person in three uses alcohol, one in four uses tobacco, whereas fewer than 5% of people declare themselves as using drugs at least once a year, and fewer than 1% use drugs on a continuing basis. Tobacco kills five million people a year, alcohol 2.5 million people a year, and drugs about 500,000 a year. These are figures that need to be borne in mind when considering why some potentially harmful addictive substances are licit and some illicit. Prescribed drugs, whether or not mixed with narcotic drugs, also lead to acute cases of addiction and withdrawal, but they too are outside the scope of our inquiry and are not examined in this report”.
Perhaps I may say on a purely personal note that, after undergoing an operation for which I had to take painkillers afterwards, I had a hell of a job coming off one of the painkillers that was prescribed. My GP told me, “You do realise you are taking an addictive drug and you are going to have a tough job throwing it”. The interfaces in this area are very important to face.
A further issue is how we toughen up our approach to money-laundering. We have to take very seriously what has become clear in a big case in the United States at the moment. One of the difficulties in facing up to this is that it is sometimes very difficult to establish where the dividing line is exactly, if there is such an absolute dividing line, between illegal and legal business activity. This greatly complicates the tasks of the enforcement agencies.
I referred to the urgent need for a review. It is fair to say that, after 50 years of the current enforcement-led international drugs control system, the so-called war on drugs is coming under unparalleled scrutiny. The goal was, of course, to create a drug-free world. Instead, despite more than $1 trillion, according to the UNODC, having been spent fighting the war, illegal drugs are used by an estimated 270 million people and organised crime profits from a trade with an estimated turnover of $330 billion a year—the world’s largest illegal commodity market. The UNODC has acknowledged that choosing an enforcement-based approach was having a range of negative unintended consequences, including the creation of a vast criminal market, displacement of the illegal drug trade to new areas, diversion of funding from health and the stigmatisation of users. The noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Teverson, dealt with that point. What concerned us in our deliberations in Sub-Committee F was not only this displacement and the drawing of third countries into the whole affair but the human rights dimensions. Sometimes, what was being done by the enforcement agencies and others in some of the third countries was totally unacceptable in terms of any basic commitment to human rights. We really do need to watch where our money is going and what is happening to it in terms of whether it is upholding human rights, whatever the cause may be. We cannot deal with one problem by transgressing very seriously in another area.
I shall conclude my brief intervention by saying that I have been impressed, in the context of the urgent need for a review, by a recent report produced by Count the Costs, which is a coalition of NGOs working in this area. It is a very interesting coalition that has produced an alternative report. The headings in that report include:
“Wasting billions and undermining economies … Undermining development and security, and fuelling conflict … Threatening public health, spreading disease and causing death … Undermining human rights … Promoting stigma and discrimination … Creating crime and enriching criminals … Causing deforestation and pollution”.
The report also examines other options for controlling drugs, including health-led approaches—hence the significance of Portugal—and legal state regulation and control. It ends with a call to UN member states to count the cost of the war on drugs and properly explore all the alternatives that might deliver better outcomes. In the report, we hear the voice of people very often giving their lives to work in the front line of the consequences of this very serious issue. In our deliberations, we should take seriously what they are saying.
My Lords, I recall in my early days in this House the noble Lord, Lord Judd, telling me that just because I was sitting on the Bench for the first of a trio of debates, I did not have to speak in all three of them. I admire his stamina.
This is indeed a useful and realistic piece of work—to repeat just two of the plaudits that have been given. EU or UK? As the chairman of the committee said, it is subsidiarity in action: it is not either/or. The two are complementary, just as it is not a matter of the Home Office or the Department of Health—though, of course, if one is in the lead it affects both perceptions and actions. This involves health, law enforcement, education and, if you are Dutch, tourism. When I looked for information about the new restriction on cannabis in Holland—the ban on foreigners visiting cannabis cafes—I did not expect to see quite so much about the tourist industry. It is too soon to see the impact on the use of other drugs there, including alcohol, but I hope that the UK is keeping an eye on that.
The Dutch have not criminalised—or, perhaps, recriminalised—cannabis, but I agree with the conclusion of the report that the debate would benefit from a clearer understanding of what it would mean if we decriminalised certain drugs. It seems to me that different people mean different things by this. I also agree with the report that member states should be more willing to learn from one another.
The combination of the EU and drugs seems a particularly easy target for the—how can I put it?—less thoughtful media. Some months ago I attended a seminar that attempted to promote a sensible, measured debate on drugs. The politicians there blamed the media. I have to say that the media blamed the politicians for not taking a proper lead. The drugs trade, as has been said, is an international business and business, as my noble friend said, adapts to markets. If we are to achieve more than just displacement, there must be a lot of co-ordination and co-operation. The report makes the point about the displacement effect and other possible unintended consequences when measures against drug trafficking are planned.
Like other noble Lords, I was pleased to see the importance the committee placed on human rights. When the EU provides assistance to other countries in anti-trafficking measures, it must make clear that resources must be used in a way compatible with human rights, and programmes must be monitored to ensure that they do not bring about human rights violations, in particular the application of the death penalty.
The issue of displacement—or, perhaps, replacement —is very much to the fore of the inquiry into new psychoactive substances by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs Policy Reform, which has already been mentioned. It is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, from whom, I have to say, I am learning an enormous amount. The ingenuity of manufacturers is staggering: for instance, using research undertaken years ago to make substances that were not then developed. In an age when science and manufacturing are so well developed there will always be another new substance available to take the place of the one made illegal. We talk about the rate at which new substances come on to the market; the issue seems to be more about replacement, as one is banned and another takes its place, than variety. Suppliers, of course, are responding to demand. With modern communications and information, it does not seem to take very much effort to access the new drug.
I hope that there will be an opportunity at some point to discuss new psychoactive substances when the group has finished its work. Like my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, I am a novice in this area, but the inquiry is making me think hard about the need to unpackage drugs: there are so many different substances within that heading. We need to understand markets and fashions: different legal highs, it seems, are the highs of choice in different parts of the country.
We need to understand the impact of a ban; it seems that the use of mephedrone may have increased since it was banned. We need to understand the harms of criminalising young people. We need to understand the psychology of recreational drug use; it seems that people grow out of it very largely as they grow into their mid-20s and their lives change. We need to put all this in the context of how society deals with alcohol and much more.
It is also making me think about what we mean by drugs education. Frankly—no pun is intended here; the point does not come from the Frank website, although I have looked at it—I wonder whether “education” is even the right term. It might say more about me than about its content, but it seems to have unhelpful tones of authoritarianism. What does it take to persuade a young person—because they all think that they are immortal—that it is dangerous to take a white powder or tablet the ingredients of which are unknown or unregulated?
I mentioned this work to a friend who told me that some years ago her daughter told her that she had taken an ecstasy tablet at a club. Her mother’s reaction was to say, “Whenever you come food shopping with me, you scrutinise every label for the e-numbers and other contents that you disapprove of. How could you possibly take a tablet when you have no idea what is in it?”. I believe that she has not taken any drugs since.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his instructive contribution and leadership. I welcome this report on the EU drugs strategy. It is a comprehensive effort and will afford us an opportunity for further debate on the points relevant to the UK. The report enhances our current knowledge and enlivens us to the common challenges we all face. Mostly, it reinforces the need for co-operation within and between countries in order for us to deal with matters of trafficking, supply and money-laundering as stated in Chapter 4, as well as sharing examples of good practice in Europe.
With your Lordships’ indulgence, I will concentrate on the situation closer to home in the UK, more specifically the experiences of those on the front line in Tower Hamlets. As the committee is aware, according to the NTA there about 306,000 heroin and crack users in England. We have high numbers who receive drugs treatment in the community or in prison, suggesting a considerable impact on addiction. Although the UK is leading internationally on drug treatment, findings indicate that drug-related deaths are higher in England than in most other European countries. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the NTA under the leadership of my noble friend Lady Massey, and bow to her and others’ experience, and that of those who have contributed to today’s debate.
Nationally, in the UK, a number of well respected voluntary organisations are providing a variety of programmes, although there is clearly a need for greater co-operation between voluntary and statutory agencies to minimise the risk of services and care provided being patchy or inconsistent. I declare an interest as I was privileged to have led the “Breaking the Cycle” three-year pilot project initiated by Addaction in partnership with the Zurich Community Trust. It provided 400 families with a holistic response where families from Derby, Tower Hamlets and Cumbria were supported. This service was based on the principle that most individuals want to change if support is available to them. It targeted the needs of the whole family, providing a range of motivational and individual interventions. These included counselling, family mediation and therapies, with regular monitoring and home visits, working in collaboration with partner agencies including schools and others. So successful was the outcome for significant numbers of the families, that this model has since been implemented across many parts of the UK by Addaction.
The work was begun in Tower Hamlets more than three decades ago by a handful of brave individuals when most of us felt that this was a taboo subject—while, in some quarters it remains prohibitive, as more families face the anguish, frustration, stigma, pain and isolation which characterises the experience of many families with a member using drugs. There is more open discourse as well as demand for services; that conversation is taking place largely due to organisations such as NAFAS, the Osmani Trust and the Jagonari Centre, which I believe receives funding from the MoJ.
The total number of people accessing structured drugs treatment in Tower Hamlets at the end of March 2012 was 1,853 and 545 were Bangladeshis. There are growing concerns among the community about the use of cannabis by the under 20s, as has already been alluded to; and a rise in alcohol and drugs use among girls, who are sometimes coerced into prostitution to support their habit. Organisations such as NAFAS, which has built up 20 years of expertise, say that there is a need for further research as well as specialist provision to work with families where stigma is still a deterring factor in seeking initial services. A website called londonstreetgangs describes Tower Hamlets as a “heroin capital”, though that is not my personal experience. A film made by Rageh Omar, of Al-Jazeera, refers to £300 million of deals being done in a few days. This was a staggering sum. The total funding for both drugs and alcohol treatment and drugs intervention projects in Tower Hamlets is a mere £8.7 million. It is a frightening reality and the value of the fight we have on our hands.
The cost of family grief, suffering and loss is beyond words. Every parent whom I have spoken to has shared their fear, hopelessness, helplessness, trauma as well as shame. While there are no apparent London-wide targets to tackle drugs dealing on our streets, Tower Hamlets Council has led a local campaign, responding to the community’s demands, called “Dealer a Day”. The programme successfully involved the community and last year secured 400 arrests for drugs supply offences. Despite the efforts made by these and other organisations, significant gaps remain in services, which need further consideration by your Lordships’ House. Frequently those seeking help have hidden their addiction from their families for years before seeking services, as is also known with survivors of domestic violence and child abuse. There is little or no sympathy for addicts seeking help, because drugs addiction is seen as a lifestyle choice.
There is clearly an enormous amount of progress and information available, but there is still a long way to go in creating awareness of addiction and identifying potential drugs use, particularly among family members. Many families that I have spoken to will testify that this is their initial barrier. Work by Addaction also suggests that addicts cannot just be treated medically, but require a holistic intervention involving a range of therapies, support, counselling, housing, and family involvement. Funding should and must be targeted to working with families of addicts to educate them, although I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about education. However, it gives families the necessary tools to cope. During the work with Addaction, it became evident that many involved in this field are the least skilled professionals. Therefore professional training needs to be strengthened to equip those who deal with the most vulnerable in our society. They also need to be enabled to work in a multifaceted and multidisciplinary way, which is now required by social workers and police officers when dealing with crimes of domestic violence and child protection cases.
The role of GPs is also critical. They are in an ideal position to promote and embrace a holistic approach, including controlling and limiting substitution drugs, to which many become further dependant, as has been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others. There ought to be consistency in practices, so that someone living in Rochdale can access similar standards of care as those available to people living in Redbridge. I understand that this is not the case. For example, some authorities in the south-west operate a system of “dry house”, which promotes total abstinence and independent recovery. This support system means a higher rate of recovery. It seems logical that this should be considered by other local authorities, if necessary by pooling resources, yet this is not the case in many parts of London. Why the success rate of programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART recovery is higher than that of standard treatments should also be looked into.
I could go on listing the countless great services that have done amazing work over a long period and others that sell families short and leave them crumbling. I speak from personal experience of watching a family member with a severe dependency on drugs. I witnessed drug-induced psychosis, the cycle of recovery and relapse, hospital admissions and that family member being systematically and repeatedly failed by institutions as their choice of drug was simply replaced by an ongoing high dosage of anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs. These surely create another, equally dangerous addiction, to which several noble Lords have alluded.
Drugs are the fifth column in many communities. At a time of austerity, this may be the last priority for funding. Given that resources are shrinking, we need a more co-ordinated response to the devastating impact on families and society in general. Currently, very few structured daycare programmes address challenging addictive behaviour. Some have referred to structured daycare programmes as being almost like babysitting. I apologise; I do not intend to offend any particular organisations or methods of work.
Appearing before a Select Committee in the other place recently, Russell Brand called for,
“an authoritative, truthful, honest debate and some funding for abstinence-based recovery”.
He claimed that this would help to,
“neutralise the toxic social threat”,
that addicts pose as criminals and to ensure that they are not simply put on methadone programmes for years at a time, which leaves them written off on the sidelines of society. The harm to individuals, families, communities and society at large is all-encompassing. The examination of drugs cannot be conducted dispassionately, as is suggested by the report. Collective responsibility to tackle this issue is a must so that generations of families are not destroyed in the process, leaving society to pick up the burden of our failures. Mitch Winehouse recently said that he needed help to speak about the death of his daughter. This is borne out by parents to whom I have spoken. I can say only that I am glad that he has done so and agree entirely with his assertion that a grass-roots response is required. Indeed, I would welcome it if parents, individuals and organisations made contact to share their experiences with us all.
Drugs have permeated our young and their social culture. The graveyards of our country claim many of the talented and those children whose names we will never come to know. Surely it is time that we looked at the suggestions detailed in the report, which refers to the Swedish experience in paragraph 30. Here, I note that I am perhaps alone in this; none the less, I shall pursue the point. The report says that Sweden has long been viewed as operating a relatively tough national drug policy. The approach is one of zero tolerance, in an effort to achieve the national aim of a drug-free society. While I acknowledge that there is no consensus on this, I ask the Minister how he views the suggestions of zero tolerance and abstinence-based programmes. Also, will he undertake further work to establish greater understanding of the plight and drug habits of girls and young women in inner-city areas?
My Lords, I also speak as a member of the sub-committee of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Can I start by thanking him for his chairmanship and for securing this very important and interesting debate?
Some 12 years ago I made a speech early in my membership of this House. It was on cannabis. I felt in a lonely position. I fear tonight that I might repeat the experience. My short speech will be informed by a 35-year career in policing, part of which was in the drugs squad of Durham Constabulary—which was then and I might add remains one of the finest police forces in the country.
Illegal drugs are a scourge in modern society. I think that we all agree on that. I have seen at first hand the misery, psychological damage and, yes, death, caused to young, old, rich and poor by improper drug use. Only last week we read in the press of two tragic but different cases. One was that of a psychologically damaged 26 year-old woman, Hannah Bonser, allegedly addicted to cannabis, who for no apparent reason attacked and stabbed Casey Kearney, a 13 year-old stranger. It was for no other reason, it appeared, than that she was being told in her head to do it. This case illustrates the damage that newer, more powerful cannabis can inflict on the mind and should be compulsory reading for those who would relax controls on this mind-altering substance. Bonser was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The other case is totally different. It is of two people of mind-boggling wealth, Hans and Eva Rausing, living in a wealthy part of London in a £50 million house. They lived in squalor to indulge their addiction to hard drugs and it resulted in the death of Eva, who was only in her late 40s.
I mention these two cases to illustrate that the drug problem affects all classes, professions and ages. If allowed to flourish it can eat away at the very fabric of a normal, healthy society. As responsible parliamentarians in a nation state or in a European union of states, we have a duty to get right our strategy for dealing with the problem. We are here to discuss the strategy of the European Union, but that will naturally be informed by the individual experience of member countries.
In this short debate I would like to discuss two areas and base my comments on many years’ experience of dealing not just with drugs but criminal activity generally. The main thrust of illegal drug control should be the task of individual states, each with different problems and cultures. Subsidiarity in this area is the correct approach. How can the European Union assist? Clearly, the fight against drug trafficking goes wider than state boundaries. The various countries of the EU should work together, pooling resources and experience in the fight to prevent the movement of illegal drugs within and outside the Union.
One of the key weapons in the fight against drug trafficking is good intelligence. It is essential. Rather like prostitution and pornography, drug crime is often described as victimless. You rarely have a complainant reporting the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, mentioned, the victim does not always come forward. There are victims, of course: the child in the pornographic film, the trafficked girl now working as a prostitute, the drug addict and his family, and the society that has to fund his treatment. They are all victims. Good intelligence is critical.
The difficulty is getting police officers, police forces and countries to share that intelligence. Before computerised databases we kept information on cards. The problem was getting detectives to put the information on the cards. Officers had a tendency to keep the information to themselves. When they were on leave or away sick, that valuable information was lost. Now that we have computerisation there is no excuse for that.
We saw from the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, into the Soham murders in Cambridgeshire, that one of the main problems for the police was a lack of sharing intelligence. For that reason, one of the most important recommendations in our report before noble Lords today is paragraph 72. It states:
“The Government should fully support the Director of Europol in seeking to improve the use of Europol's unique databases and other facilities, and should urge other governments to do the same”.
Trafficking of course is the supply side of the problem. What about reducing demand? The criminal law has a part to play, as has education. Treatment, of course, is also essential, but it is a little late to go down that road when we should be trying to stop it happening in the first place. In our inquiry, the evidence from the Home Office was interesting in that our UK policies seem to be working. We were told by the drugs director that,
“drug use is actually falling in a number of countries across Europe”,
and that England is,
“showing some of the biggest reductions of drug prevalence across the EU … the fall is almost entirely due to reduction in the use of cannabis”.
To some extent, that was borne out in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who mentioned the reduction in the number of people trying to get treatment for drug addiction.
It made me smile when I put to witnesses who had perhaps a more liberal view than I that we must be doing something right in Britain. I got the response that we should treat the data with caution. Yet these are the very data used by that same lobby when drug offences were increasing. Of course, it then criticised the use of criminal sanctions. It is a classic case of shooting the messenger and using statistics rather like a drunk uses a lamp-post—more for support than illumination.
In conclusion, we need to change the culture of society. It is not impossible; we have done it before. We did it with drink-driving. Those who were convicted were punished and ostracised, and we increased the detection methods with roadside breath testing. I am very pleased that we are going to do the same with drug- driving, which is the cause of a relatively unknown number of deaths in this country. We also did it with smoking. We made it illegal to smoke in pubs and restaurants, and, I am pleased to say, in your Lordships’ House.
Most people do not like to be seen infringing the law and, over time, the culture of society changes. Peer pressure starts to have an effect, and this is living proof that there is a place for criminal sanctions, which can change society for the better. The European Union can assist in that endeavour. I commend the report to the House.
My Lords, this is another admirable report from our European Union Select Committee. I would like to praise the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his very forceful introduction, with which I think from this side of the House we wholly agree. I also thank the Home Office for a very detailed response to the committee’s report. We do not always get that but this was an example of a department doing its job properly.
Most noble Lords in this debate have focused on drugs policy generally. We have had a lot of excellent expert contributions. As someone who is not an expert in this field, I have learnt an awful lot. This is the sort of debate that the House of Lords should have where, I hope, we can contribute to more intelligent public debate on these issues. In my brief remarks, I shall focus on the role of the European Union in drugs policy and the Government’s view of what that role should be. It strikes me that this is an entirely proper question to ask when, last week, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague, launched a review of the balance of competences between Britain and the European Union.
I suppose that there is general agreement that one good thing about the EU is that it is a laboratory for policy experiment. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that there are major cultural differences between the member states, there are also a lot of socio-economic similarities. We are all post-industrial societies. Europe is quite unlike the United States, in that trends towards social liberalism, secularism and individualism are very much the social trend in Europe. Some of the problems that lead to drug use are very common across our societies, such as the polarisation of skills that lead to a lack of prospects for young people, which is where some of the most tragic instances of drug use arise.
There is a role for comparing national policies and practices as a contribution to evidence-based policy, but in order to do this properly the role of an agency, such as the highly praised EMCDDA, is very important. Therefore, the first question I ask the Minister is to seek an assurance that the Government will continue to support the work of this agency and that Britain backs its continued existence, and will support it in future budget negotiations.
More than that, there is an EU competence in this area. One would hope that the Government would endorse that. A lot of people think of Europe as simply a free trade area or a common market, but of course one of the features of a common market with its free movement is that a lot of things cross borders that we do not necessarily like. Drugs are the classic example. It is a very proper issue for a union that is about promoting free movement also to be about trying to deal with some of the adverse consequences of free movement, of which drugs, cross-border criminality and drug trafficking are good examples.
Most of the member states of the EU have accepted that logic. It is a logic that is not driven by some mystical dream of a federalist project, but by the facts of life, and the need for co-operation to tackle these problems. During my time as an adviser in Government, I always thought of the Home Office as one of the most sovereigntist of the Government departments in terms of clinging on to national sovereignty. It is interesting that its response to the report shows an acceptance of the need for an EU role which is welcome.
The justice and home affairs agenda has grown enormously. In 1992 it was simply a question of intergovernmental co-operation and a separate pillar. All member states agreed at the time of the Lisbon treaty that it should be properly brought into the community system of decision-making. Do the Government agree that there is a proper role for the EU in drugs policy? Will that be one of the outcomes of the review of its competences? When we are thinking about the balance of competences, it is not a question of whether they are for the nation state or for Europe. In most cases, as in this case, the primary responsibility will rest with the nation state, but there is a useful and important European Union supporting role. I should therefore like the Minister to confirm that he agrees that the European Union adds value in this area, and that this is not an area where the Government would seek to repatriate powers, if indeed they are seeking to repatriate powers at all. The question is not one of competence but of whether powers are exercised in conformity with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
Will the Government, in response, endorse their support for institutions such as Europol? Will they agree that there is a possible role for minimum legislative standards? I see that the Home Office response offers a pragmatic judgment on that, which is that it depends on whether or not they work. Will the Government support that view? What is the Government’s position on measures to deal with the proceeds of drug trafficking and to deal more firmly with money laundering?
Today is possibly an important day in the history of Britain’s troubled relationships with the European Union because, when we woke up this morning to read our Daily Telegraph, we saw in that newspaper the important statement by the Prime Minister that he, “would never”—I repeat, “never”—
“campaign for an ‘out’ vote in a referendum”.
Do the Government agree that the EU’s role in helping to tackle cross-border crime and drug trafficking is one of those modern cases for the European Union in the 21st century that this Government wholly endorse?
My Lords, like all other speakers in this debate, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on producing this report and on the work of all the members of the committee. If I may single out just one at this stage, it would be the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, particularly for his remarks on the proper use of statistics, for which I was very grateful. If you accept the statistics when they go one way and then denigrate them when they are going the other, it is not a proper way to behave. My estimation of the noble Lord, which was always high, has gone considerably higher as a result of those remarks.
As always on occasions such as this, I ought to start with an apology. Yet again, as with earlier remarks I made in evidence to the noble Lord’s committee, I confess that we cannot answer what I will call the Warsaw Convention question. I still hope that we will be able to produce something within the next 12 months, but I have to repeat that it requires quite a lot of legal and policy analysis. We are confident that we are compliant with the convention. In fact, in some areas we go further. We will comply when we can, but more work needs to be done on that in due course.
I singled out the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, but I should say that the speakers’ list has attracted a great many experts, and we are grateful for the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, with her experience as chairman of the NTA, could come forward. Other noble Lords who have taken part in all-party groups and served on committees have brought their thoughts to this debate.
Bearing in mind the hour and the fact that there is another debate to come, noble Lords would not want me to repeat the entire response of the Government to the report because, as they will know—I have a copy of the letter I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with the Government’s response—it goes on for some pages. Some of the questions, particularly those put by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, are answered in that response. They are there on the record and deal with the points he made.
I believe, as always, that the report was particularly timely because it has the potential to be influential in relation to the drafting of the new EU drugs strategy, which is taking place under the Cypriot presidency that ends in December this year. I welcome the contribution that it will make to those discussions, and I can give an assurance to my noble friend Lord Avebury that officials have already discussed the United Kingdom priorities for the strategy bilaterally, with the Cypriot national drugs coordinator, and jointly with other member states at the horizontal drugs group, and will continue to work with the Cypriots as the strategies are developed before its planned adoption in December. In addition, a number of our European partners have commented on the helpful way in which the report has helped set the scene for discussions on the new EU drugs strategy. I pay tribute to the foresight of the committee in undertaking this work, and for the clarity with which the report has been written.
As is obvious from the Government’s response, we agree in large measure with the committee’s analysis and findings. Looking forward, there are a number of key areas that we would like to see the new EU drugs strategy address. We are keen to ensure that the next iteration of the EU drugs strategy maintains its balanced approach, encompassing public health approaches and enforcement measures, working together to reduce demand and restrict supply. It is important that there is a clear and consistent approach to prevent drug use and minimise drug misuse, and that there is a strong focus on moving individuals with a dependency into sustainable recovery. It is important for the new strategy to highlight the importance of reducing health harms—as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I think—while supporting people to recover, such as preventing the transmission of blood-borne viruses and other infections, if the prospects for recovery by drug users are to be maximised.
The new strategy needs to describe how pan-European work will support and dovetail with activities which are best taken forward by member states, or their localities. Drugs policy—as I think everyone agrees—should, and does, remain mainly the competence of member states. National strategies should continue to have primacy on approaches to domestic drugs issues. The EU drugs strategy should seek to complement the delivery of national strategies, particularly through focusing on enhancing co-operation rather than on developing legislation. Similarly, it should produce a framework within which statutory agencies and civil society can work together.
Like the committee, the Government believe that the EU drugs strategy can add real value in tackling drug trafficking. We believe that in order to tackle the supply side effectively, we need to employ both traditional and innovative tools. By intelligence sharing—this brings us on to Europol; I refer the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, to our response—by raising policing and law-enforcement standards, and by promoting best practice among external partners, we will help to destroy the criminal networks that target Europe and its member states.
The strategy should also continue to build on lessons learnt to date across the EU from our joint approaches on the new psychoactive substances mentioned by a number of noble Lords. We should use the objectives and commitments in the UN resolution, led by the UK, with Australia and Japan, on promoting international co-operation in responding to the challenges posed by new psychoactive substances, as a useful starting point. I should say that we have made considerable progress in this country by speeding up the legislative machinery that allows us to deal with these so-called legal highs in that we can now refer them to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for a rapid response. We can process them fairly quickly while the ACMD looks at them in greater detail. Only recently a new drug which I think I can only pronounce by its street name, which is MXE—I can never manage to pronounce its proper name—has been given a temporary ban while the ACMD takes a further look at it to see what its long-term damage could be. I appreciate that to some extent this change means that we are often like a dog chasing its tail and it might be that in the future some new legal mechanism or machinery has to be set up to make it easier to respond to new drugs or legal highs as they are developed.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. In the Government’s response to the committee’s report and in the report itself, a favourable view is taken of analogue legislation whereby the Government would take powers to ban new psychoactive substances that they consider to be analogous to substances that are already banned. Perhaps I may counsel some caution before the Government go down this road. The American experience seems to show that analogue legislation provides a field day for lawyers who spend a great deal of time and money arguing over whether the precise molecular composition of a new substance is analogous to the already banned substance, and of course it would be a wholesale extension of prohibition, with all the difficulties involved.
We will certainly look at the American experience. We are aware that there are a great many more lawyers in America than there are in this country, and that the Americans are keen on making use of lawyers. However, obviously we would want to learn from their experience. While I am on the subject of the ACMD, I should also say to my noble friend Lord Avebury, who asked about khat, that the advisory committee is currently reviewing the harms associated with it. We will not prejudge that advice, but we will look at it in due course.
I am most grateful to my noble friend. I also mentioned, in the context of the examination of khat, the possibility of applying regulation. The committee looked at regulation although it did not express a firm opinion on it. However, it is another way of tackling harmful drugs, and it may particularly apply to the use of khat. I would be grateful, given that the advisory committee is looking at khat, if it would also examine the possibility of using regulation to control it.
I think that that must be a matter for the advisory committee to decide. I want to make it clear that we will not prejudge its advice. We will look at it when it comes and then make an appropriate decision. I understand that that is likely to be later this year.
I want to try to make progress because the House wishes to get on to the next debate. One of our key priorities for the next iteration of the drug strategy is to ensure that we agree a principle of transparency that would allow greater oversight of the available EU funding streams and the actions they are driving. It is vital that we ensure that EU funding for counternarcotics and EU co-ordination in external third countries is effectively targeted and aligned with overall EU drug strategy priorities. We would like to see concrete actions intended to tackle drugs covering both action to enhance local capability against the drugs trade and alternative development.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Liddle, and others mentioned the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon, which is rather inelegantly known as the EMCDDA. I will refer to it as the European monitoring centre. I was asked what our view is of this body. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about its valuable work. We accept that it should continue and that we should make increased use of it where possible, and similarly of its early-warning system through the use of intelligence gathering and forensic analysis via Europol and Interpol. This will also help with our collective understanding of the current EU drugs market.
There were those who took the debate further and asked that we look at alternative approaches. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that he was somewhat constrained because he was worried that the Daily Mail might be listening. I looked up at the Gallery and I do not think that anyone from that paper was there at that stage. We fully respect the fact that different ideas and policies will be put forward in the ongoing debate. We believe that policies should be discussed, challenged and reviewed. That is what we are doing in the United Kingdom through our annual review of the drugs strategy that we produced back in 2010, and the development of our evaluation framework. We continue to discuss efforts to tackle the drugs trade with our international partners.
Similarly, within this country, the noble Lord mentioned a conference that my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin will be addressing in November on these matters. My right honourable friend, as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, is also part of the inter-ministerial group on drugs that I chair on behalf of the Home Office. There were those who said that it should not be the Home Office that led on this subject and that this matter should be transferred to the Department of Health. However, we in government think it should cover all the Government but be led by the Home Office. The inter-ministerial group that I chair also has representatives from Health, Education, the Cabinet Office, Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, Communities and Local Government and, last—one should never say least—Her Majesty’s Treasury. Meetings of the inter-ministerial group are roughly once a month and all those Ministers regularly attend. I think that it is a very fine example of the Government being non-siloised—if I can put it in those terms—and thinking across the board in these matters.
I will say a word or two about Portugal and decriminalisation. Again, we will continue to look at what happens in all countries and we are determined to study the effects of the work they have done in Portugal. There is an excellent policy review by the EMCDDA of what Portugal is doing, which I commend to noble Lords. We will look at what it does and make our decisions in due course. Lastly on the subject of decriminalisation, I do not think that this is the time or place to go on to that wider subject. However, the legal framework that we have in this country—the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—allows the criminal justice system some flexibility to deal with the best way to reduce reoffending and gives both the police and the judiciary discretion to take into account all the circumstances of the offence, such as when it involves possession of a relatively small amount of some drug.
As noble Lords will be aware, government officials are closely involved in the development of the new EU drugs strategy. It is currently on course to be adopted at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in December. I can assure the noble Lord and his committee that officials from the Home Office will keep the committee informed of progress with the new document as appropriate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response to the debate, which was helpful in many respects. I can assure him that I was not the slightest bit worried that the Daily Mail might be up in the Gallery; I was merely worried that its recording of anything I said might not be all that accurate. If that paper is not there, the problem will not arise.
The one point I still regret a bit is the Warsaw convention. At the risk of banging on about this, I point out that it is not that we believe that the British Government’s money-laundering arrangements are not consistent with the Warsaw convention—I accept what the noble Lord says, that they almost certainly are—it is the example that we set by not signing and ratifying an international convention that deals with a matter of great importance to us, and where we want to encourage others to see that we take it seriously and to take it equally seriously themselves. That is the basis on which I continue to urge him to find the one or two man hours necessary to achieve this, particularly in the light of the not very pleasant story about HSBC. I do not want to go into that as it is not proper to do so here, but one can see that we would not want the impression that we are a bit sloppy about these things to get around. I am sure that he does not want that, and neither do I.
I shall not reply to the debate. I thank all noble Lords who have participated; it has been extremely gratifying that so many people participated from outside the narrow limits of the EU Select Committee and the sub-committee that I chair. It was not, as these debates, alas, quite often are, simply the usual suspects, and for that I am extremely grateful. We had a debate that can best be summarised in the single word “thoughtful”, and that is as it should be. It was a thoughtful debate with a lot of different views being expressed, and I hope that it will help the Government among others in their formulation of policy.
I conclude with a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her contribution; she has a lot of expertise and of course a specific role in this matter. I think that I understood her to say that she was not quite sure that there was that much difference between what we did here and what the Portuguese now did under their new policy. That struck a chord with me; I think that she is right. The big difference is that the Portuguese are proud of what they have done and go around telling everyone about it, while in this country, although we have a much more humane policy—the Minister referred to this—with much more emphasis on harm reduction than in the past, it still remains the policy that dare not speak its name. That is why the best contribution that the report produced by my committee could make would be if it started a wider thoughtful debate about these issues. I beg to move.