Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 3: Exempted substances
15: Clause 3, page 2, line 9, leave out “or vary”
My Lords, Clause 3(2)(a) permits the Secretary of State by regulation to amend Schedule 1 in order to add or vary any description of substance, while Clause 3(2)(b) permits the Secretary of State by regulation to remove any description of substance added under paragraph (a). I appreciate that any regulation made under this provision has to be by statutory instrument, subject to affirmative resolution. I appreciate that paragraph (b), which, on the face of it, appears to be a Henry VIII power, is limited by the fact that the Minister can seek to utilise it only to remove a substance that the Minister has added under paragraph (a). A Minister cannot seek to remove a substance that is exempted under the measure as enacted.
However, I have a concern about the provision under paragraph (a) to vary the description of any substance. This concern is shared by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, and I declare an interest as a member of that committee. In its report published at the beginning of last week, the committee draws attention to the fact that the power to vary any description of substance could presumably be employed to narrow the description of such substances, thereby expanding the range of substances brought within the ambit of the Bill’s provisions.
The power to seek to vary the description of substance is subject to it being exercised by a statutory instrument but, given the breadth of the power and the absence of any definition of what is meant by varying a description of substance, that may be deemed an inadequate safeguard. Exercising the power by statutory instrument may be necessary but it may not be sufficient.
This is compounded by the fact that, as the Constitution Committee notes, the power to add, remove or vary the description of substances is not constrained by any explicit statement of the purpose or purposes for which the power may be exercised. Any constraint would have to be inferred from the scheme of the Bill but that may be difficult given that, as the committee notes,
“the Bill adopts an ostensibly neutral conception of what should constitute a (non-exempted) psychoactive substance”.
There is no notion of harm embodied explicitly in the Bill, so one cannot adumbrate clearly the range of substances upon which its provisions have effect. Given the wide power conferred by paragraph (a) to vary any description of substance, some amendment to the clause to make clear the meaning of vary would seem appropriate, along with a statement of the purpose or purposes for which the power may be exercised; in short, making it clear what it is and when it would be appropriate to use it.
If the Minister were to indicate that the Government would be prepared to consider amending the Bill along those lines, that would allay concerns about the broad and undefined powers given by this clause. Without such an assurance, the prudent course would be to remove altogether the provision to vary any description of substance. That would leave the Minister with the capacity to add by regulation and to remove by regulation anything added. That would offer at least some clarity in a way that we do not have at the moment. One either defines what is meant by varying a description of substance or one removes the term from the Bill. The amendment, by providing for removal, is designed to concentrate the Minister’s mind. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend and I have Amendments 20, 21, 47 and 48 in this group. First, I welcome the introduction of this issue in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which, as he said, was considered by the Constitution Committee. We are lucky to have committees which manage to just about keep ahead of the game in looking at legislation and helping the rest of the House in raising such issues. It is a very important point.
My amendments are in two pairs and both regard the regulations. One of each pair provides that when the Secretary of State consults before making regulations, as well as consulting those whom she considers to be appropriate, she should specifically consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs both with regard to exempted substances under Clause 3 and excepting certain actions in regard to offences under Clause 10. The second amendment in each pair provides that she must also make a report to Parliament on the consultation. I have added that assuming that that is what would happen but I seek the Minister’s confirmation.
A number of people commenting on this Bill have said that the ACMD seems to have been sidelined when it should be upfront and the centre of what we are doing. I hope that this small point—it is not a small issue, but a small insertion—is something that the Minister and the Secretary of State would be glad to confirm as proper to be in the Bill.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and to the noble Baroness for drawing our attention to these points. The Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House had first done so, and it is unsatisfactory that there is so little clarity about the power to vary. We ought always to aim—certainly in this context—for as much legal certainty as it is possible to create.
I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has tabled amendments in this group that would amend Clause 10. This clause, which provides powers for the Secretary of State to create exceptions to offences, seems to be quite extraordinarily open-ended. I am rather surprised that the Constitution Committee did not draw attention to that as well. It leaves the Secretary of State free to retire from the field—to alter the specification of offences in all kinds of ways, subject only to the need to consult and the need for affirmative regulations. I submit that that is not a satisfactory way for the Government to legislate. Clause 10, if not Clause 3, does seem to create Henry VIII powers.
There is a broader constitutional point, which I think my noble friend Lady Bakewell made at Second Reading, when she noted that our normal constitutional practice—our normal tradition in this country—is to leave citizens free to do things unless they are specifically forbidden. The tenor of the Bill is to make everything forbidden, unless it is accepted in the field of the use of psychoactive substances. The House should be careful in permitting that kind of exception to constitutional tradition and practice. The policy had better work; it needs to be justified in its practice, because it is a somewhat objectionable principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has tabled an amendment to require the Secretary of State to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to report before exercising these different powers. It would be helpful if the Minister would clear up for us what consultation Ministers and their officials had with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in the preparation of this report. It is, after all, the statutory duty of the ACMD to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom in respect of drugs. However, we have been led to understand, possibly erroneously, that the first time that the Home Secretary sought the advice of the ACMD in drawing up this legislation was on 26 May, when she sent a letter asking for its advice on how to achieve better forensic services and to establish a comprehensive scientific approach to psychoactivity for evidential purposes. That was only two days before the Bill was laid before Parliament. It would appear, as the noble Baroness suggested, that the ACMD has been sidelined in the preliminaries to the legislative process.
It is by no means the first time that the advice of the ACMD has been rejected by Ministers of various Governments. Its recommendations in respect of the classification of magic mushrooms, cannabis, MDMA, khat and now of nitrous oxide have all been rejected by the Government. It was not always the case that the recommendations of the ACMD were so routinely ignored. Back in the 1980s, when we faced the crisis of mounting levels of heroin addiction and the spread of HIV and of AIDS, the ACMD’s advice was taken, to the great benefit of improved policy.
When the UK Drug Policy Commission chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman reported in 2000, and again when it published An Analysis of UK Drug Policy in 2007, it warned of the lack of research underpinning policy development, and that policymakers,
“operate partially blind when choosing effective measures”.
It would appear that that may still be the case in 2015. The recommendations of the Runciman commission were dismissed, as were the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy dismissed by the Home Office in 2011, as were, in 2012, the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee that a royal commission should be established. However, policy should be made not on a basis of political expediency, but in response to evidence. It should be made not on a basis of anxiety about what the tabloids might say but on the basis of the advice of independent experts.
Professor Nutt, the chairman of the ACMD, was sacked essentially for telling the truth about the relative dangers of alcohol and tobacco vis-à-vis cannabis and ecstasy. Mephedrone was classified before the Government had received the advice of the ACMD, but following a huge campaign by the Sun newspaper and an endless series of “meow meow” stories, most of which turned out to be false when the facts were properly established. There were many resignations from the ACMD at that period. People in the front line of enforcement—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, may be able to tell us something about this, if he chooses to do so—found that the vacillations and vicissitudes of policy made life very difficult for police officers in the front line of enforcement in Brixton or elsewhere.
Therefore, what advice does the Minister follow? What does he see as the role of expert advisers, and to what extent has the ACMD been consulted in this context? Certainly, I hope that he will answer the questions articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
My Lords, as we are in Committee, I would like to ask the Minister a question which I told the Bill team I would ask him, but which I forgot to include in my previous remarks. Why do the offences clauses, up to and including Clause 10, not receive a mention in the Home Office’s human rights memorandum, except a reference in the summary at the start of the memorandum? One would have expected that, having created new offences, they would have deserved some attention in that document.
My Lords, I make a very short intervention simply to support this group of amendments ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and in particular to support the plea of my noble friend Lady Hamwee for a better explanation vis-a-vis the advisory council—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. When I read the Bill, I was astonished to find that the advisory council had been sidelined to the extent that it had. If it is to be sidelined in future, this is an extremely important change.
Speaking for myself, I will be looking very carefully at what the Minister says in reply to the previous speeches made on Amendment 47 because, if he is not careful, he might find another plethora of amendments being tabled at later stages to restore the advisory council to its rightful role, which it has discharged with distinction in my view since the 1971 Act. This is not an insignificant moment for me. If the Minister can persuade the Committee that these are simply incidental circumstances indicating that the advisory council has been put to one side for the temporary purposes of this Bill, that is one thing. However, if this is a systematic attempt to reduce its significance in future policy-making in this important area, I think noble Lords will want to return to this during later stages of the Bill.
My Lords, I will make just a brief point on the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I would be surprised and appalled if the advisory committee was not one of the consultees in the Bill. But I am not sure it is necessary to actually mention it. The Secretary of State is under an obligation to consult such persons as appropriate, and clearly, the advisory committee is one of the top ones on the list to be consulted. If the Home Office failed to do so, in my experience we would be in court on a judicial review within minutes and the Secretary of State would lose the case for failing to consult an appropriate body.
It is one thing having a duty to consult, but that is quite different from being under an obligation to carry out all the advice the committee can give. It is perfectly legitimate for the Government to consult the advisory committee but then reject some of its advice after due consideration. If it is not given due consideration, again, that is a case for judicial review. While I agree that the committee must be consulted, I am not sure it is really necessary to put that in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that in his response.
We very much support the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and the Constitution Committee, and we await with interest the Minister’s response to them. I thank the Minister for his letter of 15 June, which followed up on the Second Reading debate, and in particular on questions that I and three of my noble friends had asked about the role of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in relation to the Bill.
We are a party to Amendment 20, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which relates to Clause 3 on “Exempted substances”. Clause 3(3) says that before any regulations to amend Schedule 1 are made,
“the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
The purpose of the amendment is to add the reference to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. I note the point that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has just made but one could interpret the Bill as saying that there is no statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to consult anyone because it is open to them to conclude that they consider no person appropriate, despite the importance or significance of amending Schedule 1 and getting any such decision right. No doubt the Minister will comment on the point that in reality, under Clause 3(3) the Secretary of State could not get away with consulting nobody at all and that it obliges them to consult at least somebody. That is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made and I would like to hear a very specific response, on the record, as to exactly what Clause 3(3) means in that regard.
Referring to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, the Minister’s letter of 15 June 2015 states:
“The ACMD is required by statute to be consulted before any amendment by Order in Council is made to Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”.
The principle of the ACMD being required by statute to be consulted is thus not new, and I do not see how it can be argued that somehow it is unnecessary to put it in the Bill, given that the Minister’s own letter refers to that already being a requirement. If the Minister is going to oppose Amendment 20, I hope he will explain the reasons for doing so in some detail. In his letter he says that the Government are,
“ready to consider carefully any recommendations the ACMD may have about other aspects of the Bill”.
Has a response been received from the ACMD? Has it said whether or not it wishes to be consulted as per the terms of Amendment 20, to which we are a party? What difficulties does the Minister believe there would be if the ACMD had to be consulted as per this amendment, and who exactly might the “such persons” referred to actually be?
Finally, to come back to the point I made earlier and which the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has already made, does the Minister think it right that the Secretary of State could apparently make a change to Schedule 1 without taking expert advice? That is what Clause 3(3) apparently enables the Secretary of State to do, unless the Minister is going to tell me that I have misunderstood it.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for introducing this amendment. Perhaps I may structure my response by first putting on the record some important comments which might be helpful to the House and then, at the conclusion of those remarks, seeking to address some specific issues and questions which have been raised.
The Constitution Committee drew to the attention of the House the fact that the power to vary Schedule 1 could be exercised so that something which, on the enactment of Schedule 1, is an exempted substance ceases to be exempted. A similar point was raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Bill. The Constitution Committee also commented on the absence of a statement of purpose or purposes for which the Clause 3 power may be exercised. At this point, I would put that in the context of assuring my noble friend that the Constitution Committee has concentrated our minds. I think that the report was published last week, on 18 June, and we will be considering it carefully. We will have a full response to the committee ahead of Report.
As we indicated in our delegated powers memorandum, the list of exempted substances needs to be robust and kept up to date so as not to unintentionally criminalise the production, supply and so on of psychoactive substances that may legitimately be consumed for their psychoactive effect. Following on from one of our debates last week, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the regulation-making power indeed enables substances to be added to Schedule 1. To take an example, alcohol is both a substance and a description of a substance. It may also be necessary to vary an existing entry: for example, if the regulations mentioned in paragraphs 2 to 5 of the schedule relating to medicinal products were revoked and replaced with new regulations. While we expect the list in Schedule 1 to remain reasonably stable, the regulation-making power affords the necessary flexibility to make required changes relatively speedily should it be appropriate to do so.
We have deliberately drafted this regulation-making power so that it will not be possible to exercise it to remove any description of a substance that is contained in Schedule 1 on enactment. But I would be wary of further narrowing the scope of the regulation-making power, as Amendment 15 seeks to do. I stress that the power is subject to the affirmative procedure, so any regulations would need to be debated and approved by both Houses. I will of course reflect on this debate before responding formally to both the Constitution Committee’s views and the Delegated Powers Committee’s report.
Amendments 20 and 47 would require the Home Secretary to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs before making regulations under Clauses 3 and 10. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, spoke in support of these amendments and has added his name to Amendment 20. I begin by saying that the Home Office continues to greatly value the scientific advice provided by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Following its advice over the last few years, we have controlled more than 500 new psychoactive substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The advisory council will continue to have its central role in assessing the harms of specific drugs, including new psychoactive substances, for control under the 1971 Act and in providing advice to Ministers.
In drafting Clauses 3 and 10, the Government included a requirement for the Home Secretary to consult with such persons as she considered appropriate prior to making any regulations: for example, regulatory bodies and relevant experts. This was to account for the fact that the Government may need to consider different types of substances and so wanted to tailor their consultations to organisations with specific expertise. For example, if it was thought necessary to change the description of food, we would want to consult the Food Standards Agency. In this example, the advisory council would not necessarily have much to contribute to any consultation. None the less, as noble Lords will have seen from the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the ACMD was included as an example of the type of consultee the Government had in mind. That being the case, I am happy to take away Amendments 20 and 47 to consider the matter further in advance of Report.
The Government are, again, supportive of the principle behind Amendments 21 and 48, but I question whether we need to specify such a requirement in the Bill. There are many examples on the statute book of requirements to consult before a Minister exercises regulation or order-making powers. It is taken as read that the outcome of any consultation would be published —a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood —alongside the making of the relevant regulations or order. We do not need to clutter the statute book with express duties of this kind. There is a joint working protocol between the advisory council and Home Office, which commits us to open and transparent dealings. The advisory council routinely publishes its advice to the Home Secretary and I fully expect it to continue to do so. We will encourage other bodies responding to any consultation on these regulations to do likewise.
Any regulations made under Clauses 3 and 10 will be made by the affirmative resolution procedure. It is standard practice to publish an explanatory statement alongside draft regulations. Such a statement would, among other things, summarise the outcome of the consultation. Therefore, one way or another, Members of both Houses will be able to consider the consultation responses in conjunction with the draft regulations to be made under Clauses 3 or 10. In the light of this explanation, and on the understanding that I will give a sympathetic consideration to Amendments 20 and 47, I hope that my noble friend Lord Norton would feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I now turn to some of the specific points raised. On Clause 3(3), I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that it is difficult to conceive of circumstances where the Home Secretary would reach the conclusion that there were no appropriate persons to consult. We have had some excellent work by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and the Constitution Committee on the Bill. Were there not to be an adequate and full demonstration of the experts who had been consulted, that particular measure—which might be before the House on an affirmative basis—would clearly be in for a very difficult ride. In reality of course, the Government would not seek to do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made the point that he was very concerned about whether this was some kind of attempt to downgrade or sideline the ACMD, which I understand. The council does of course have a statutory duty under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which is very important, and it was consulted. It has been looking at the area of psychoactive substances. I cannot remember the exact date of that but I am happy to get details. One of its recommendations was that the Government ought to consider and explore a legislative response to this. I do not say this in order to unearth a previous relationship, but it was Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister, who decided to put this out to an expert panel.
To make a serious point, the purpose there was not to deal with a question on the science, which is just one component of this. Another part of it is then to say, “How do we deal with the science?”. Whereas we have an eminent group of scientists on the ACMD, the expert panel is particularly constituted so that it has expertise on enforcement at local authority level; forensics; prosecution, from the Crown Prosecution Service; medical science, of course, with three members of the ACMD on the expert panel; social sciences; an international dimension, with drug addiction; and, very importantly, education and prevention, with representatives from Mentor UK and DrugScope. So it was constituted to address a different stage in the problem, the issue having been identified earlier.
I want to deal with the points that have been made, although I shall provide a fuller response to the Constitution Committee. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth made a particular reference to the term “vary”. It might be helpful if I add some words to the record at this stage on that point. “Vary” is given its natural meaning in the Bill: the ability to amend individual definitions within Schedule 1. It does not stretch to changing the principle of an exemption, nor to removing it. Schedule 1 exempts groups of substances; the ability to vary the definitions is important to future-proof the legislation against regulatory changes, which may change how particular substances are legally defined. It may be that a definition in the Bill is varied in the way in which it narrows its scope. However, this would be the case only if the scope of the underlying regulation was also narrowed. A similar approach has been taken in Ireland—without wanting to reopen that particular canard at this stage. Since the passing of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 in Ireland, they have not needed to make any amendments to their exemption list. We therefore anticipate a stable list.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned a point that she had raised with officials and which we had tagged under the Clause 10 stand part debate. These offences are modelled closely on those provided by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which has been in force for 45 years. Although it was enacted before the Human Rights Act 1998, the compatibility of the 1971 Act with the human rights convention has been tried and tested thoroughly in both domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. By following closely the existing law and statute, we have endeavoured to draft offences that we believe are compliant with the ECHR. In view of this, and to avoid restating old arguments in the memorandum that are already well accepted by the courts, the decision was taken that the ECHR compliance of these offences did not require rehearsing in the memorandum. Instead, the memorandum focuses on those issues that may properly be described as new or significant. We look forward to any observations on these and other provisions from the Joint Committee on Human Rights; in the usual way, a full response to the committee’s report will be possible once it has been received.
With those assurances, which I reiterate are on important issues which we undertake to consider very carefully and come back to on Report, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the Government's consultation with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on the subject of psychoactive substances, and I think that I heard him tell the Committee that the ACMD had urged the Government to do something about psychoactive substances. An expert panel, which is not the same as the ACMD, was then set up. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House, in response to the points that I put to him in my contribution, what dealings the Home Office had with the ACMD on this legislation on psychoactive substances, following receipt of the advice from the expert panel, up until the letter that the Home Secretary sent to the ACMD on 26 May. Given that the ACMD has a statutory duty to keep under review the situation of the UK in regard to drugs, surely it would have been appropriate—and I should have thought a statutory requirement—to seek its views as to the wisdom of the policy that the expert panel recommended and on which the Government were proceeding to legislate. What consultations took place on this specific Bill?
I think I have tried to deal with that important point. Effectively, it is a discussion about which came first, the chicken or the egg. On the exact phraseology—I am just trying to read and, being a simple man, I can do only one thing at a time; it is difficult to multitask at the Dispatch Box—my understanding was that the advisory committee used a particular phrase, which was not as strong as the noble Lord perhaps suggested. However, it was an invitation to the Government to explore legislation, which they then chose to do through a multidisciplinary panel along the lines I outlined earlier.
Clearly, there will be a point—once we have come back and published the Bill—where the Home Secretary, quite rightly, wants to explore further. The letter of 26 May to which the noble Lord referred, and which I do not have in front of me, sought the scientific advice of the ACMD on how we use forensics to determine what is a psychoactive substance. It was a particular task, which I hope demonstrates that there is a healthy relationship between the Home Office and the ACMD, which is not of course uncritical. It has a very important role to play. The fact that the chair and other members of that committee formed part of the group is important.
Let me just read out a point that has been highlighted for me. However, since October 2014, when the Government published their response to the expert panel’s report and Ministers wrote to the ACMD, we have been open and transparent about our plans to develop the blanket-ban approach, now encapsulated in the Bill. The Home Secretary has written again to the ACMD and we look forward to receiving its views on how we can strengthen the UK’s forensic capacity and capability to support the implementation of the legislation. I think that is broadly what I said the letter was about and what the response was. If there is any difference, I will write to the noble Lord.
In the mean time, I would be grateful if my noble friend would consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, it is appropriate to mention that, as well as the two committees to which the Minister referred, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also takes an interest in consultation on regulations. I was a member of it for quite a long time and we frequently asked officials to go back to different departments because an Explanatory Memorandum gave very little information about the consultation that had been undertaken and the responses to it. That probably got into my DNA so I did not even realise it was there in prompting me to raise this point. I would not threaten the Minister with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee but it will certainly be on top of this if the Explanatory Memorandum is inadequate in this respect.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I shall look forward to further discussions with him, and I know the Constitution Committee will be very interested in his response to its report.
I listened with great interest to what my noble friend said. On defining the term “to vary” he offered a description but not necessarily a compelling argument for why a description should not be in the Bill. I appreciate that the power to vary will be subject to the affirmative resolution, but that places a burden on the House to establish criteria for assessment when the instrument is brought forward, whereas it may provide better discipline for the criteria to be established in the Bill. We can say no when the instrument is brought forward, but there may be a case for it not to be brought forward in the first place to make it clear to the Government what should and should not be permissible. So I am not necessarily persuaded that the Government should be given the essentially unrestricted power in Clause 3. One can have a little too much flexibility.
However, I look forward to discussing this further with my noble friend and, in the mean time, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendments 16 to 22 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
23: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Possession of controlled drugs
(1) The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 5(1) and (2).
(3) After section 5 insert—
“5A Measures in respect of possession of controlled drugs for personal use
(1) Where a person is detained on suspicion of having committed an arrestable offence and is found to be in possession of a controlled drug falling within Schedule 2 (Class A drugs) in circumstances which do not constitute an offence under section 3 (restriction of importation and exportation of controlled drugs) or section 4 (restriction of production and supply of controlled drugs), a senior officer or a local authority may require the person to attend a drug treatment programme or drug awareness programme.
(2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations define “drug treatment programme” and “drug awareness programme” for the purposes of this Act.
(3) Regulations made under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(4) A statutory instrument under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.””
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 24. These amendments are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
First, there has been a bit of confusion in the editing of the amendment. Subsection (1) of proposed new Section 5A should refer to all drugs falling within Schedule 2, not, as suggested in the brackets, “Class A drugs”. Schedule 2 refers to Class A, Class B and Class C controlled drugs.
Amendment 23 amends the Misuse of Drugs Act by removing Section 5(1), which states that it is illegal to possess a controlled drug, and Section 5(2), which states that it is an offence to possess a controlled drug. It adds a new Section 5A to the Misuse of Drugs Act requiring those arrested for offences to be referred to a drug treatment programme or a drug awareness programme if they are found to be in possession of controlled drugs at the police station. The effect of the amendment is to bring controlled drugs, as defined by the Misuse of Drugs Act, into line with substances that are controlled by this Bill, where simple possession of psychoactive substances is not a criminal offence. This amendment would have the effect of decriminalising the possession of psychoactive substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act and is similar to Amendment 39 which is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
This amendment also allows that when someone is in police custody for an offence and it becomes apparent that drugs may be behind the criminal behaviour, the person can be referred to an education programme, a drug awareness programme or a drug rehabilitation programme. It allows the Secretary of State by regulation to define a drug treatment programme and a drug awareness programme for the purposes of this Bill. Amendment 24 is simply a consequential amendment to Schedule 1.
At Second Reading, I said that making possession of drugs illegal is not a deterrent, and the Government appear to agree with me to the extent that they are not seeking to make possession of new psychoactive substances illegal under this Bill. It is claimed that proportionality is the reason for not doing so. A proportionality argument can be made for possession of controlled drugs as well. First and foremost, there are millions of people in the UK who continue to take drugs even though they are illegal. Why do they do so? One of the reasons is because the law is in disrepute as far as those it was intended to protect are concerned. Secondly, criminal sanctions do not appear to have any impact on drug use. The Home Office’s 2014 paper Drugs: International Comparators states:
“Looking across different countries, there is no apparent correlation between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug use”.
UK drug laws appear to have failed to impact on the level of national drug use. The UK has the second-highest lifetime amphetamine and ecstasy use, the second-highest cocaine use and the fourth-highest lifetime cannabis use in Europe.
Release examined 21 jurisdictions where possession of all or some drugs had been decriminalised, and there was no increase in drug use. In the most notable example, Portugal, the Home Office notes that there has not been a lasting or significant increase in drug use there since decriminalisation in 2001. Whether simple possession of drugs is a crime or not appears to make very little difference. The Government are content not to criminalise possession of the substances covered by the Bill, some of which are—and some new substances certainly could be—far more harmful than some of the drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. For the sake of consistency, clarity and credibility, simple possession of any psychoactive substance should not be an offence. Some will be concerned about such a move, and I myself long resisted calls to legalise drugs. However, I have been convinced by the evidence from Portugal.
These amendments go on to suggest that where someone commits an offence, whether it is antisocial behaviour as a result of being intoxicated by drugs or committing an acquisitive crime to feed a drug habit, and it is found that they are in possession of a controlled drug, they may be referred to an education programme if they have been reckless in their use of drugs, or to a drug treatment programme if they are addicted. There are already well-established practices within the police of giving conditional cautions, where someone is not charged with a criminal offence provided that they comply with the conditions imposed on them. That conditional caution mechanism for the substantive offence for which they have been arrested could provide the incentive for those who are willing to change their behaviour. This is, in essence, the Portuguese model, as I understand it—an approach that focuses on dissuasion.
This amendment has significant other benefits. As with substances covered by the Bill, it would deprive police officers of the power to stop and search people they suspect of simple possession of controlled drugs. At Second Reading, I pointed out the impossible position that the police would be put in if the Bill were implemented without a change in the Misuse of Drugs Act. The police could not possibly be able to tell whether the psychoactive substance they suspected the person to be in possession of was covered by the Bill or by the Misuse of Drugs Act, one for which they have a power to stop and search, the other for which they do not. This amendment deals with that difficulty.
Stop and search is a very contentious tool that the police have used disproportionately against black and minority ethnic young men in particular. In 56% of cases of stop and search by the police in London in 2013-14, the reason the officer gave for searching was “for drugs”. Admittedly, some of those stop and searches may have been for suspected drug dealing, but in my own professional experience they would have been very few. Last week there was discussion in the media about the growth of knife crime in the capital, and it has been reported that the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis has suggested that stop and search may have to increase again as a result. In the same 2013-14 period in London, only 9% of stop and search was targeted on offensive weapons. Freed from the burden of stop and search for simple drugs possession, the police could focus on more serious crime such as drug dealing and knife crime.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, alluded, I have some experience of de facto decriminalisation of cannabis in the London Borough of Lambeth, where I was the police commander. In 2001, for a year, the then Commissioner of Police, now the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, agreed a 12-month pilot scheme where no one would be arrested for simple possession of cannabis, subject to a few exceptions such as possession on or near school premises. The official report by the Metropolitan Police Authority into that scheme is still available on the internet. Some 83% of local people supported the scheme. There was a 19% increase in arrests for dealing in class A drugs. Contrary to press reports, there were fewer drug tourists, fewer incidents of drugs in schools and a saving of police time, which was diverted into tackling more serious crime that was of more concern to local people. The pilot was so successful that the procedure to allow officers to seize and warn for simple possession of cannabis was extended nationally. It also prompted the then Home Secretary to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug—a decision overturned by a new Labour leader a few years later. No wonder the public have no faith in drugs classification.
Since then, the police procedure nationally for dealing with small amounts of cannabis for personal use has evolved. In addition to having the cannabis seized and a warning given, those caught are given a fixed penalty for disorder—a specific penalty notice provided by statutory instrument, which was presumably agreed to by this House. Simple possession of cannabis has effectively been decriminalised with the agreement of Parliament.
The wording of my amendment may not be perfect, and I have since learned about the FPN approach, which may be a better way forward. However, the principle is sound and it is this: we should have a consistent approach to all psychoactive substances by decriminalising simple possession. Even if the Government do not feel that they can go that far, at least simple possession of drugs only as harmful as or less harmful than cannabis—a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—should be decriminalised. I beg to move.
My Lords, we will return to the subject of decriminalising possession of all drugs a little later in relation to other amendments, and I will speak then. I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for this amendment. This is an incredibly important issue and I want to say a few words about Portugal.
The crucial issue that I think the Government have to consider is whether it is more important to reduce social use. For example, if an alcohol policy results in rather more people having a glass of wine or beer on a Saturday night, does that really matter? I do not think so. What really matters is addiction, and a policy that reduces addiction is, for me, a good policy.
As I understand it from all the research—of which there has been a lot—into the Portuguese decriminalisation of possession and use of all drugs, there has been a bit of an increase in social use in Portugal, but under the scheme fewer young people are addicted to any drug. As I understand it, the right-wing political parties were against decriminalisation when it was introduced, but Dr Goulão, the wonderful doctor who spearheaded this reform—he is terrific; I know him very well and he is splendid—is thrilled that all political parties in Portugal now support the policy. It is true that Portugal is going through terrible economic issues, so I am not sure exactly what is happening to the policy right now, but it has been proved that a policy of decriminalisation wins the support of all political parties once it is seen in action, and it is all about addiction.
My question to the House and to the Minister is: why are fewer young people in Portugal now addicted to all drugs, not just one? I believe that it is to do with the psychology of young people. They like to be cool. When I was at school I used to break the school rules. I thought it was a terrific thing to do, although I do not think that I broke the law. If all young people have to do is get a spliff to break the law, they think that that is cool. In Portugal it is not cool. Why is that? It is because if you are referred to a dissuasion commission, you see a psychiatrist, a social worker or a lawyer who determines whether you are addicted. You are then referred for treatment. That is not cool; it is a mental health treatment, and it is not cool to have a mental health problem.
I believe that Governments of all political persuasions should think about the psychology of young people when they think about drugs policy, because it will only be when we get inside the minds of young people that we might come up with a policy that makes sense and works.
My Lords, as someone from the highlands of Scotland, I like to be cool as well, but I suspect that it is a slightly different interpretation.
I was not quick enough on my feet to ask this of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, before he sat down. I readily acknowledge his great practical expertise in these matters and I acknowledge my own ignorance. Is there a definition, in statute or in case law, of how much is a “small amount” of drugs for personal use? One needs to know how much a person could get away with by claiming, “This is just for my personal use, guv”. Or is it rather like the cross-channel ferries, where people can come back with 10,000 cases of cigarettes and lots of booze and claim that they are a heavy drinker and smoker, and possibly get away with it?
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quote favourably from the Portuguese experiment, and there are some debatable results there. I would also refer them to the trendiest, most socialist and liberal country in the EU—Sweden. Sweden has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and, admittedly, a big back-up self-harm programme behind it. Although one can quote Portugal favourably, one can also quote Sweden and its no-tolerance policy favourably. I hope that noble Lords have seen the reports from Sweden, as I have, and if I am wrong, I am happy to be reminded and amended later on.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I too have been impressed and encouraged by the evidence emanating from Portugal. Just before I add a few words on the subject of Portugal, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that if he looks at the incidence of drug-related deaths in Sweden, he will find that they are exceptionally high. People are ignoring these draconian policies that the Swedes do indeed operate, but not with happy consequences. One of the reasons is that criminalisation and the panoply of very severe penalties in operation in Sweden deter people from seeking treatment and help. Personally, I think that that is ill advised.
The Portuguese took another route when they faced a real crisis of drug abuse at the beginning of the century. They consulted an expert panel, which recommended the depenalisation—I think that that is perhaps the term—of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Again I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that under the Portuguese legislation, those “small amounts” of each drug are very precisely defined, so it can be done in legislation. At the same time, they invested very significant resources in treatment, education, programmes of social reintegration and the disruption of supply. It was a coherent strategy that appears to have worked very successfully.
As an aspect of that strategy, dissuasion commissions were set up so that somebody apprehended in possession of an amount of a drug—a psychoactive substance—would have to go before the dissuasion commission. As the noble Baroness said, it consists of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, a social worker and a lawyer; it is a fairly formidable panel to have to face. But if you are brought before that panel, you are not charged with a criminal offence. It does have power to impose administrative sanctions but its main focus is on getting people into treatment.
The central principle of the Portuguese legislation is that drug abuse is a health issue and not a criminal issue. I would suggest to the House that the results have been most impressive. Over five years, the number of people injecting drugs halved; drug-related deaths and new HIV infections more than halved; drug use among the 15 to 24 year-old age group fell; there was no rise in use in the older age groups; very importantly, the rates of continuing use, year-on-year use as opposed to occasional use, fell below the European average; and the numbers seeking treatment doubled, while the costs to the criminal justice system plummeted. All this is documented—there is plenty of evidence to tell us about the success of the Portuguese experiment, which has been going for 15 years. As the noble Baroness noted, the global financial crisis and the extraordinary pressure on the public finances of Portugal made it difficult to persist as fully as they would have wished with the education and treatment dimensions of the strategy. None the less, they have continued with the policy, and as she said, it has become accepted right across the political spectrum. I know that Home Office representatives have visited Portugal to learn at first hand from Dr Goulão and others about how it has worked. It is puzzling and disappointing that more lessons have not been taken on board.
Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, would create powers such that,
“a senior officer or a local authority may require the person to attend a drug treatment programme or drug awareness programme”.
“May require” is quite a prudent element in the drafting, only because—and I fully endorse the policy of encouraging people to go to such programmes and benefit from them—the scale of drug-taking is, sadly and very worryingly, large in this country. A survey of Cambridge students found that 63% had taken illicit drugs, half of them before they had reached the age of 16; 45% of them had bought drugs for their friends; and 14% said that they had at one time or another sold drugs for a profit. A survey in 2011 of people in management jobs in London found that one in 10 took illegal drugs at work or at social events associated with their work. Mostly, they used class A drugs—cocaine and ecstasy. Of course, the use of cocaine and other class A drugs can lead to serious addiction, illness and death, so we should congratulate those such as Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, one of the members of the noble Lord’s expert panel, who set up Club Drug Clinic at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital—and other such clinics have been established across the country—which is particularly focused on helping young professionals who become addicted in this kind of way. I am simply describing the scale of the challenge we face if we seek to make drug awareness and drug treatment programmes available universally to people found in possession of drugs. It is estimated that some 350,000 children in this country have a parent who is a drug addict. I understand that one-third to one-half of those entering prison are already problem drug users. In 2010, there were 2,182 drug-related deaths. So it is a colossal challenge whatever strategy is adopted. Helping more drug users find the healthcare treatment they need will be a challenge on a large scale.
This is not a new dilemma. Back in 1924, the Government of the day established the Rolleston committee. Its recommendation to the Government certainly was that penal elements of policy were important, but it also said that addiction should be treated primarily as a disease. I would suggest that the moral imperative is not to stigmatise or to punish but to help those who are sick. We must communicate facts accurately, precisely and honestly if young people are to respond constructively, seriously and respectfully to the policy and the legislation. In 2000, Lady Runciman and her colleagues said that,
“the most dangerous message of all is the message that all drugs are equally dangerous. When young people know from their own experience that part of the message is either exaggerated or untrue, there is a serious risk that they will discount all of the rest”.
One of the difficulties with this legislation is that it fails to discriminate between the harms at different levels of psychoactive substances. I understand the problem that, with the proliferation of psychoactive substances on such a scale and at such a pace, this is a very difficult thing to do, but it remains an important objective of policy.
When the previous Labour Government were being tough on the causes of crime and sought to get more people into treatment, they found that it was not plain sailing. The Home Office identified at one point 320,000 so-called problem drug users and invited them to undergo voluntary testing in the hope that it would offer a route away from the revolving door of crime and addiction and into treatment. If I remember aright, the Home Office reallocated a very large sum of money—some £600 million; it was a PES transfer, if that is the right terminology—from the Home Office to the Department of Health and the National Treatment Agency. The Drugs Act 2005 set up the drugs intervention programme, expanding the drugs treatment and testing orders and making it compulsory to test on arrest or when an ASBO is issued so that a defendant was offered the choice of treatment or jail.
How effective was all of this? The National Audit Office reported in 2004 that there had been 18,400 DTTOs at a cost of £50 million a year but that they had had little impact: 80% of those who entered the programme were reconvicted within two years. Coercion into treatment was a problematic policy. Three-quarters of people dropped out of the programmes and only 4% of addicts left the programmes drug free. Professor Mike Hough, one of the academics who assisted the Home Office in the evaluation of the programme, said that they were making exaggerated claims about the effectiveness of their drug strategy to Ministers which were just not sustainable.
The scale is even bigger now with new psychoactive substances, and it is difficult to cure addicts and to help problem drug users. If we are going to do that, we have to invest in aftercare, housing and training programmes for them. There will be significant implications for the budgets of the police, the health service, housing, benefits and further education. What the noble Lord is proposing in his amendment is desirable in principle but we should be well aware of the difficulties that there may well be in practice.
I say again that if we were to legalise and regulate, selectively and strictly, certain drugs, it would open the way to transferring substantial funds away from policing and the criminal justice process into treatment. One dimension of the Government’s anti-drug strategy is building recovery. I would be grateful if the Minister will give his assessment of the success of the building recovery part of the strategy.
My Lords, it is important that in this Bill, it is not proposed that there should be a criminal offence of possession of psychoactive substances. In due course we shall see how that works, and it may well be that the lesson to be learned from that could have an effect on the older legislation to which the amendment refers.
As I understood the noble Lord, Paddick, he said that one of the successful police techniques is the conditional caution, which of course depends on the underlying offence—that is the power on which the conditional caution rests. It is an extremely valuable approach to this difficult problem. I agree entirely with what has been said about how difficult a problem this is. I have no doubt at all about that and I do not need to reiterate the point. The conditional caution has a degree of authority behind it to persuade the person who receives it to do what it requires him to do. That is extremely important. The difficulty I have with this amendment is that if a senior officer suggests or requires that someone should attend one of the systems as defined by the Secretary of State in a later amendment, there is not much power to ensure that that will happen.
It is a long time since I had experience as a judge in criminal cases involving drugs where possession was an issue, but I distinctly remember the sadness I felt when sentencing a lady with a young child who had been in possession of quite substantial quantities of prohibited drugs. As the sentencing judge, I had the power to invite her to subscribe to a programme as a condition of her probation, rather on the same principles as the conditional caution, except at a slightly more authoritative level. The lady was obviously very attached to her child and there was a risk that if the situation continued, she might be separated from the child by the social work authorities. I was keen, it if was possible, to help her get out of that situation. A good programme aimed at helping people out of addiction was being run in Glasgow at the time. I got her agreement to attend the programme, subject to the probation order, which, as noble Lords will know, meant that if she left the programme she had agreed to attend, there would be other possible consequences. It was to my extraordinary sadness to discover that after she had been getting on well for a few months, she suddenly left. That is one of the difficulties of a programme which has no authority to continue.
I am not good at getting into the minds of very young people, for reasons which are obvious, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would attest, but there is the question of the psychology of all this. There is also the question of a level of authority, so that the treatment becomes something a person is required to undertake in order ultimately to get out of the criminal justice system. I agree that this is an important matter, and it would be good to see how the regime set out in this Bill works. It might have a good lesson for the existing legislation.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee: I did not speak at Second Reading, but I would like to make a brief contribution at this point and to ask a question. Following up on the issue of alternatives to formal action being taken by the police in introducing people to recovery courses, I should say that I have had a good deal of experience over many years of dealing with people with drug and alcohol addictions. There is a big question mark over whether the addictive personality ever truly recovers, in the sense that people talk about recovery, because people often switch from one addiction to another, but they reach a stage at which they can maintain their addiction and lead a good life. However, it has been my experience that, before they get to that point, no one can undertake a course or programme of any sort unless they have an inherent willingness and desire to recover. One drawback, unexplained in the amendment before us, is this: what does one do with the literally very high percentage of people who will want to opt for this course because it is the soft option, but who have no intention whatever of displaying the willingness and commitment required to achieve recovery?
With the leave of the House, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in apologising for not having taken part at Second Reading. I declare an interest: I am what is called a recovering alcoholic. I am not about to fall over—it is 30 years since I last had a drink—but in keeping with what the noble Lord was saying, I regard myself as possibly still being an addicted person and therefore have to conduct my life accordingly. I endorse everything that the noble Lord says: we have to learn to take responsibility for our lives.
Getting that help means confronting some extremely ugly truths about what we have done and the effect we have had on ourselves and members of our families. That is a very hard role for the state to take on, and it has always been my view that one should rather encourage the private sector. The cost to the economy of addiction —whether to alcohol or to drugs, and in my view the two are closely related—is known almost precisely. The best outcome would be if a leading firm with good social values pioneered something that the rest of the world could piggyback on. Firms have a vested interest in their employees and their employees’ families being clean and free of drugs and alcohol, and they know what the cost is. It would be of enormous benefit, which perhaps could be reflected in some tax concessions, if the private sector were encouraged to lead on this matter.
My Lords, the Opposition are not minded to support Amendment 23. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting out so clearly the intention behind it, which is to decriminalise the simple possession of all drugs listed under the 1971 Act and partially replace that with a drug awareness programme. I emphasise that we believe that education and treatment have to be an essential part of the whole programme that the Government must responsibly pursue to tackle the enormous problems that drug addiction produces, but we do not believe that this is the vehicle to make such a substantial change to the 1971 Act. If the Government were minded to go down this road, surely they would first have to conduct a major programme of research and a major consultation. They may choose to do that, and I await the Minister’s response with some interest, but we are not in favour of the delay that such a research and consultation programme would lead to. The Bill mends a hole in the 1971 Act with respect to psychoactive drugs, and it should be enacted as soon as reasonably practicable in order to attack this difficult problem.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for introducing the debate on this amendment and giving us an opportunity to contemplate in broad terms these two groups of issues: one around the experience of dealing with people with drug problems and the other looking at international comparisons and alternatives, and health and education. This is something that your Lordships’ House does incredibly well: drawing on people who have had practical experience, not just in the police, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has, but in adjudicating, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern has done in difficult areas. Then there were the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and my noble friend Lord Cavendish about their own experiences in trying to assist and work with people coming to terms with addiction. It has been a very thoughtful debate.
I am conscious that I will not be able to cover all the points, but we have a meeting with all interested Peers on 7 July in Committee Room 10A between 4 pm and 5 pm. We will announce it on the all-party Whip—or the business managers will, lest I overegg my powers. It has been set up particularly so that we can hear from Public Health England and about what is happening in education and treatment. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that that goes very much to the heart of the wider issue we are seeking to address. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, about updating where the Government and Public Health England are with the wider drug strategy and building recovery programmes might be usefully discussed at that meeting, along with many other issues.
Let me put some remarks on the record and then come back to some of the specific questions that have been put to me. I acknowledge that drugs policy is a particularly difficult and challenging part of public and social policy. There probably are some countries in the world that do not wrestle with the problem but not many. Certainly everybody in the West, North America, South America, and Africa, and across Europe into Asia, is wrestling with the same challenges. My noble friend Lord Blencathra made the point that we look at other countries and draw conclusions. If there was a silver bullet or something that worked universally, clearly the world, being the way it is, would have unearthed it. Indeed, the UN General Assembly special session on drugs, which meets again next year, tries to harness experience from around the world. There is also the diligent research and work of our own expert panel, as well as examples of particular cultures in particular places where programmes have worked.
In that process, we should not underestimate that people might also take a look at drugs policy in this country and suggest that, across the majority of drugs and age groups, there has been a long-term downward trend in drug use over the last decade. Among 11 to 15 year-olds, drug use has been falling since its peak in 2003. More people are recovering from their dependency now than in 2009-10. The average waiting time to access treatment is down to three days. I pay tribute to the previous Government—the noble Lord, Lord Patel, talked about this at Second Reading—for the programmes which were started then and have been continued. We should not be averse to saying that there have been examples of success in many different jurisdictions, not just in Portugal—although that is an important area that we need to look at.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to remove the possession offence for controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Government’s position is that liberalisation, through decriminalisation of harmful drugs, is not the answer to the problems we face. This Government have no intention of decriminalising the possession of drugs. It would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities.
Decriminalisation fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and has insufficient regard for the harms that drugs pose to the individual. It neither addresses the risk factors which lead individuals to misuse drugs and alcohol, nor takes into account the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence inflicts on individuals, their families and the wider community. Preventing and reducing drug misuse is a key part of our evidence-based drugs strategy. It is a drugs strategy which produces an annual report and is ongoing across many government departments. We take a broad approach to prevention, combining universal action with targeted action for those most at risk or already misusing drugs.
Drug recovery is at the heart of our current approach, with the key aim to support people to free themselves from drug dependency for good. We have moved our focus beyond the treatment system to include factors that help people recover from drug dependency and fully integrate back into the community. Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to give police and local authorities a discretion to require a person to attend a drug treatment programme or drug awareness programme. The Government strongly support local investment in approaches that help to identify drug-using offenders and direct them to treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.
There are a number of examples of this work in action. For example, we are supporting police to use the model of drug testing on arrest to ensure that individuals are identified and referred to the treatment they need. We are supporting NHS England in its rollout of a new standard model of liaison and diversion services that identify and assess those who may have mental health or substance misuse issues—a point eloquently referred to earlier in the debate. There are now 22 liaison and diversion sites set up and running, covering more than 50% of the population. We are working with local areas to identify and respond to their heroin-using population in order to grip and reduce harms caused by heroin and crack cocaine, including drug-related offending and wider social outcomes. Finally, NHS England, Public Health England and the National Offender Management Service are working together to share and develop emerging learning from the north-west prisons “through the gate” substance misuse services early adopter approach.
The police and the courts of course have discretion in the implementation of our drug laws so that an informed and proportionate approach can be taken to an individual caught in possession of controlled drugs. The police have a range of alternatives. These currently include simple cautions, conditional cautions and—in cases of cannabis possession—cannabis warnings and penalty notices for disorder. Although a criminal offence is still committed, these types of out-of-court disposals do not amount to a criminal conviction.
Following a consultation on the current out-of-court disposal framework, the Government announced in November 2014 their intention to simplify the current range of disposals into two tiers: a suspended prosecution based around a conditional caution and a new statutory community resolution. The new framework would require offenders to take action to comply with the new disposals and face meaningful consequences if they fail to do so, rather than simply accept a warning. Both tiers would allow and encourage the police to include rehabilitative measures designed to prevent reoffending, including interventions to tackle drugs misuse and to help address underlying issues that may have contributed to the offending. The new arrangements are being piloted in three police force areas before a decision is taken on whether to roll them out more widely. It is the Government’s firm view that, by delivering on national commitments set out in the drug strategy and in other programmes, and by enabling local partners to take responsibility at a local level, we will enable more individuals to become free of their dependence and contribute to society.
On the idea of giving more local power, it was the Drugs Act, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that sought to address the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Blencathra: what actually constitutes personal possession? The Act went into a fine line-by-line definition, a bit similar to what had happened in Portugal, which defined an amount. We then found that this was unworkable for similar types of reasons that we have found for psychoactive substances: once you put down on a bit of paper what the amount is, people naturally start to try to find a way around it. What did we come back to? We came back to saying that the police at the scene should use their own judgment and determine whether drugs are for personal use or whether a person is dealing.
That is why we come back to where we are with this measure; we have said that it is for the police to apply that judgment as to whether the person they intend to stop and search is someone who they feel is likely to be in the production, supply or import or export of psychoactive substances, and whether the substances found would contribute to that, whether they be large or small.
So that is more or less where we have come to. I am sure that the noble Lord will not come round completely to saying that the Government have arrived at something which is a little closer to his innovations in Brixton, and clearly not on the scale proposed in his amendment. However, given our commitment to hold a meeting for all interested Peers, which will provide an opportunity for ongoing discussion, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Will the Minister help us just a little bit further, because I know the Home Office knows a good deal about what has happened in Portugal? Much earlier in his speech, he was very dismissive of the benefits of decriminalisation on the Portuguese model, as I understood him to say—that is, possession of small amounts of drugs precisely defined for personal use. How, then, does he account for the success of the Portuguese policy?
I did not mean to be dismissive about that. The Drugs: International Comparators report, which was referenced by several noble Lords, is clear that the success in Portugal cannot be attributed to decriminalisation and dissuasion panels alone. While drug use went down and health outcomes went up, there was at the same time a significant investment in treatment, which has already been referred to. That is an important part of it. That report could have looked at some of the—albeit modest—successes which we have had in this country with our approach. What is beyond doubt is that it is not just enforcement or the law but also education and health treatment which are at the heart of our being able to deal with this problem.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate and wish, if I may, to address a few of the points that were made.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, asked how much constitutes personal use. If you have even a small amount of a drug but have it all in little bags, that indicates that you might be supplying it, or have possession with the intent to supply it. That is the sort of decision that a police officer has to make on the street. Whether it is to do with cannabis or any controlled drug, the decision on whether it is for personal use or possession with the intent to supply is one that is faced by officers every day.
Mention was made of the Swedish absolutely zero tolerance approach. I was not going to raise this issue again but it goes to the heart of what we are discussing. We are all on the same page as regards a lot of what the Minister has said, and what I have suggested in trying to persuade people to get treatment, or on education and so forth. However, the very big difference between us, of course, is whether or not possession is illegal.
As I say, I was not going to bring this up again, but I mentioned at Second Reading a former partner of mine, who became my best friend, who tragically died as a result of taking drugs. His mother asked me to go to the inquest, which is where I learned what had happened. He realised that he had taken an overdose of a drug called GHB. I honestly believe that, if possession of a small amount of that drug for personal use had not been illegal, he and the people that he was with would have sought medical assistance quicker. In fact, he tried to make himself sick in order to get rid of the overdose and thought that he would be okay. He fell asleep and, by the time he was found by his friends, he had obviously stopped breathing for half an hour or an hour or so. They did not seek medical treatment because his condition was to do with illegal drugs.
I know a nightclub manager in Vauxhall who tells me that in other clubs in Vauxhall partygoers who have collapsed—collapsing is what happens if you overdose on GHB—as a result of taking illegal drugs are carried out on to the street by security before an ambulance is called, which could be the difference between life and death for those people, because the nightclub owners do not want to have a reputation with the police that illegal drugs are being used in their clubs. That is why in Ireland, with the passing of a similar Bill, and in Sweden, there are so many deaths because people are taking illegal substances and therefore do not seek the medical help that they desperately need. So I hope your Lordships will forgive me but this is personal as well as professional for me.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, raised the issue of authority. These people will have been arrested for a substantive offence and if they do not accept the route of treatment—which they are entitled to do; it is very difficult to force people down that route—they simply get charged with the offence for which they have been arrested. If they are found guilty, there is an opportunity for the courts to have another go as far as that is concerned.
No doubt there will be opportunities to discuss this at the meeting the Minister has referred to and to come back to it on Report. But for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Schedule 1: Exempted substances
Amendment 24 not moved.
25: Schedule 1, page 34, line 7, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—
“2 All medicinal products prescribed by a doctor or sold by a licensed pharmacist.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 26 and 27. I am very grateful to Rudi Fortson QC for advising me about the issues I am seeking to resolve with these three amendments.
Amendment 25 seeks to adjust Schedule 1 in order to exempt:
“All medicinal products prescribed by a doctor or sold by a licensed pharmacist”.
In the absence of this amendment, some perfectly legitimate medications prescribed by a medical practitioner may be banned under this legislation. The point here is that the exemption for “investigational medicinal products” does not encompass the supply by a GP on a named-patient basis of a particular medication. The GP will not be acting in pursuance of a clinical trial and thus will not be covered by the exemption of substances used for investigational purposes.
In the Bill no exemption is made for medical practitioners who believe it to be in the patient’s best interests to supply a psychoactive substance that is unlicensed and which does not fall within Schedule 1. The amendment seeks to overcome this problem. I can give the House an example to clarify the point. Acetylcysteine is used on a named-patient basis for cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and renal protection. These are not trivial matters; they are very serious and it is really important that doctors are able to prescribe these substances in the future despite the passage of the Bill, which we assume will go through in some form. I hope the Minister has had an opportunity to consider this issue and, if she would find it helpful to discuss it with some experts, I have proposed a few people who would be happy to attend a meeting.
A separate issue is covered by Amendment 26. I thank the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as well as Rudi Fortson QC, for its briefing on this amendment. Here the need is to ensure that research scientists using psychoactive substances in their work to develop new medicines or progress neuroscience research do not have their work hindered by this legislation. I am sure the Government do not intend to interfere with this important sphere of research but I hope they will ensure that the final wording of the Bill achieves fully the objectives of the amendment. The royal college welcomes the Bill’s current exemptions for investigational medicinal products as defined by the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004. Moreover, as the ban on psychoactive substances set out in the Bill relates only to such substances that are consumed by humans, this means that research that does not involve human consumption of a psychoactive substance— that is, pre-clinical trials—would not be banned under the Bill.
However, there are some experiments involving humans that sit outside the 2004 regulations. Some biologicals and early-stage pharmacological tools—proteins or manipulated chemical compounds—would fall outside this definition as they cannot be classified as “investigational medicinal products”. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, this is hugely concerning as physiological experiments on humans, for example, or studies in human neuroscience looking at issues such as attention, consciousness and memory-use drugs and amino-acids—not medicines—would therefore be illegal under the Bill, unless exempted via this amendment.
The aim of the amendment is to ensure that all research, including work using humans consuming substances for research purposes—not for fun—but not captured by the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004, would remain legal and enable vital neuroscientific research to continue. Without this amendment, laboratory suppliers may be wary of supplying some requested compounds for neuroscience research because of their potential to have a psychoactive effect on humans. This could mean that vital new medicines may never get developed. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that she agrees that the term “investigational medicinal products”, as defined by the 2004 regulations, does not cover all research used to develop new medicines or progress neuroscience research, and therefore that this amendment really is needed to protect these crucial areas of research.
At this point, I want to mention the letter to the Home Secretary from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Pharmacological Society, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Society of Biology. They all expressed concern about this issue. The letter welcomes my amendment but makes the point that it “goes some way towards” protecting vital research. I obviously have not managed to go all the way in my amendment. I hope that the Ministers—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord—would agree to meet the key people to make sure that the wording in the Bill really is right at the end of the day.
My final point on this issue is that the problems could of course be resolved by regulations, as indicated in Clause 10. However, this seems far too important a matter to leave to regulations, and I think that all those scientists would be very concerned if it was not in the Bill. I also think I am right in saying that a similar issue was dealt with in the Bill that became the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Perhaps the noble Baroness can address that issue, because at least we would therefore have consistency. Even without that point, this matter needs to be dealt with in the Bill to make sure that our research base is not interfered with.
I turn very briefly to Amendment 27, which addresses the possibility that low non-psychoactive doses of potentially psychoactive substances could and should be exempted from the scope of the Bill. How can a Government justify criminalising someone for supplying to someone else a dose of a substance when that dose in itself is not psychoactive? Can the Minister respond to this point or take it away and write to me before Report to clarify the position? The scientists are worried about this because they often use tiny amounts of a psychoactive substance and want all that to be exempted from the Bill. Again, the Minister might find it helpful to discuss this with the experts; I do not pretend to be an expert on this matter myself. I beg to move.
My Lords, we have Amendment 28 in this group. The noble Baroness has covered the issues very thoroughly, particularly with regard to her Amendment 26, so I do not want to take too long. I struggled with the issue of research, in particular as to how Schedule 1 and Clause 10 fitted together, if they fitted at all. The noble Baroness alluded to that. As she said, the reference to the regulations in Schedule 1 raises the issue of non-human use and research for purposes other than those covered in the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations—for instance, understanding neurological processes. The definition seems to link a product with clinical trials. I am no scientist, but I do not know how you get to the point of a trial without a much wider exemption than we have as the Bill stands. Like the noble Baroness, I am concerned as to whether Clause 10 may be used to make research not an offence. I do not think that would be the right way to go about this but, if it is in the Government’s mind, questions would include what is being proposed, when it will happen and what the process of that will be.
On Tuesday last week, on the first day in Committee, I mentioned the problems of undertaking research on cannabis, through my amendment on medicinal cannabis. Those problems were described by Professor Curran and Frank Warburton in the report which I mentioned then. I am not entirely confident that our amendment captures everything that needs to be captured, and although I am glad to see the amendment on the same subject in the name of noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, I am not entirely convinced that theirs captures everything either—but that is why we have Committee.
The correspondence which we received was very helpful in prompting us to focus on this. The Academy of Medical Sciences, in its letter to the Home Secretary, referred to the “important tools” that scientists need. This House has a well-deserved reputation for focusing on research and ensuring that research is assisted and not hampered. It is very clear to me that we need to explore this issue further and to ensure that the Bill does not hamper, but promotes, research.
My Lords, very briefly, I would endorse every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said and put a rather practical consideration to the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked for a meeting, and I am sure that Ministers will wish to hold such a meeting. However, time is somewhat against us, as we have Report in a fortnight’s time, and it would be very helpful if the Minister could assure us that that meeting will take place. I am certain the Government will not ignore these very important representations from eminent research bodies in the medical field—they are bound to take account of them. However, just as the Academy of Medical Sciences has shared its letter with noble Lords who are participating in these proceedings, it would be very helpful if the Home Secretary would share her reply with us and if we could have, before Report, an explicit amendment tabled by the Government to remedy the defects that these eminent research bodies, under the umbrella of the Academy of Medical Sciences, have drawn to our attention.
My Lords, we also have an amendment in this group, Amendment 49, providing for regulations under Clause 10 to give exemptions from an offence under this Bill—and from its ban—for specific medical research activity. Of course, a number of noble Lords raised concerns at Second Reading about the impact of the ban on new psychoactive substances and the creation of an offence on medical research. We do not want the Bill to inhibit or restrict important medical research that will help us to improve our knowledge of drugs and their impact, and I do not believe that that is the Government’s intention.
Clause 10 would appear to provide a means to ensure that proper medical research can be exempt from the consequential effects of the ban on psychoactive substances in the Bill, and our amendment refers to appropriate regulations being laid before both Houses to achieve this goal. We need to hear from the Government how they intend to give assurance that legitimate research will not be inhibited or restricted by the terms of this Bill, and how any processes or procedures for enabling medical research to be exempt from an offence under the Bill would work in practice.
The report of the Constitution Committee refers to Clause 10 authorising the Secretary of State,
“to specify excepted acts”,
from a defence under the Bill,
“by making regulations”.
The committee stated that the House might,
“wish to consider whether it is appropriate to confer such a broad power on the Secretary of State, and in particular whether it should be unconstrained by any textual indication as to the purpose or purposes for which it may be exercised”.
Our amendment inserts a specific requirement in Clause 10 in respect of medical research activity.
The Constitution Committee also drew attention to the fact that,
“the details of the excepted-acts regime are … absent from the Bill”,
unlike the exempted-substances regime. It says:
“Whether any such regime is in fact established and, if so, on what terms are instead matters that are wholly for the Secretary of State to determine … The House may wish to consider whether it is appropriate to leave the details of the excepted-acts regime to be determined wholly through secondary legislation”.
I assume from an earlier debate that that is an issue that the Government will consider in the light of the report from the Constitution Committee.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, the Secretary of State has received a letter from a number of major organisations involved in, or associated with, medical and scientific research, expressing concern about the Bill’s potential unintended consequences for medical research and asking that the final draft does not pose a barrier to important scientific work, both in neuroscience and in other areas. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to show in her response that the Government will take the necessary action to address those concerns, and that we do not end up with a Bill that could be interpreted as leaving researchers open to the possibility of prosecution.
My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, have the same ambition as the Government—to ensure that lawful medical practice and patient care, as well as bona fide research, are untouched by the provisions of this Bill.
The purpose of Schedule 1 is to list psychoactive substances exempted from the scope of the Bill. It excludes certain substances which are not the target of this legislation, and are mostly already subject to regulatory controls. Importantly, under paragraph 2, it exempts medicinal products; this is the subject of Amendment 25, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. This covers those products that have marketing authorisations issued in the UK, in the EU, or such authorisation issued by the licensing authority. The current definition for medicinal products was a starting point for the Bill’s introduction and is being reviewed again by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
We continue to test whether our objective is achieved by the schedule as currently drafted. For example, we recognise that unlicensed medicines for human use need to be taken out of scope. These are lawfully manufactured, imported, distributed or supplied for the treatment of individual patients after being ordered by a range of healthcare professionals, not just doctors. It was always our intention to remove these medicines and this activity from the scope of the Bill. In this case, we see the advantages of making provision on the face of the Bill—in Schedule 1 to the Bill—rather than in regulations made by virtue of the power in Clause 10. I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that our intention is to bring forward appropriate amendments—if possible in time for Report—to ensure that the exemption for such products is properly aligned with existing medicines legislation.
Amendments 26, 28 and 49 all relate to safeguarding research into the medicinal and other legitimate uses of psychoactive substances. As I said, the Government attach a high priority to bona fide scientific research and to not putting in place unnecessary regulatory barriers that in any way impede research in the UK. We are actively ensuring, in accordance with our original intention, that any interaction between the provisions of the Bill and those conducting or supporting bona fide research into psychoactive substances is removed.
Along with the Department of Health, we are testing the need for greater latitude, over and above this exemption. As a priority, we are establishing how we best achieve this, perhaps through the drafting of further exemptions in the Bill. There could also be a case for making exceptions through regulations under Clause 10. We may well, therefore, bring forward government amendments on this issue on Report. I have listened to the concerns that have been expressed and all our further considerations will take account of the text and intent of noble Lords’ respective amendments.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has also tabled Amendment 27 in this group, which would exempt low non-psychoactive doses of psychoactive substances. My understanding is that such materials are used by forensic and other laboratories, which hold these chemical reference samples for investigative procedures. I can assure the noble Baroness that, as these substances are not supplied for human consumption, they are already outside the scope of the Bill.
I hope I have demonstrated that I have sympathy for the intention behind Amendments 25, 26, 28 and 49. We are actively looking at whether the definition of medicinal products needs to be strengthened and whether further precision is needed to safeguard legitimate research. We will also make every effort to get together with the experts; that is an excellent idea. On the understanding that we will return to these issues on Report, I trust that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, is there an issue around veterinary medicine as well as human medicine? I do not know the answer to that; it is a straight question. Is it something that needs to be looked at? The Minister is shaking her head, which suggests that one could go on producing veterinary medicines without offending under the Bill, which raises all sorts of other issues.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response, which was very positive. I was particularly pleased that she agreed that these matters should be dealt with in the Bill, which suggests agreement that they are sufficiently important for them to be dealt with there, and said that the Government will be bringing forward amendments before Report on the medicinal matter and may bring forward amendments on the research matter. I understand from the experts—the scientists—that it is important that there are amendments before Report on that issue. I hope the Minister may be able to respond immediately to that point because it will be difficult to leave this one unless we have that assurance.
On the low-dose issue, her reply was interesting because I tend to agree with her that surely these things are not for human consumption. On the other hand, the matter has been raised with me by people who know about these things, and I must express my gratitude for the willingness of Ministers to meet the experts and cover that issue and the others because they are the people who need to advise Ministers about exactly what the wording should be on all these matters. I express my gratitude, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
Amendments 26 to 28 not moved.
29: Schedule 1, page 34, leave out lines 25 to 29
My Lords, my amendment would remove alcohol from the list of exempted substances in Schedule 1. The purpose of tabling the amendment is to enable the Minister to do that which he did not have time to do at Second Reading: to provide an intellectual justification for the exclusion of alcohol from the provisions of the Bill.
Alcohol has the effects listed in Clause 2(2) and as developed by the Minister in responding in Committee on Amendment 7. Why, then, is it an exempted substance? The logic of the Bill is, on the face of it, unclear. It seeks to prohibit psychoactive substances that are seen to be harmful, but it then exempts the substance that is the most harmful of all in human, social and economic terms. Alcohol misuse kills, it rips families apart, it puts strain on public services—the police and the NHS—and it has enormous economic consequences for public services and for employers in working days lost. There are at least 5,000 alcohol-related deaths a year. If one includes deaths where alcohol is causally implicated, the figure rises to some 20,000, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, at Second Reading.
Alcohol abuse remains the leading risk factor in deaths among men and women aged 15 to 49 in the United Kingdom. In 2012-13, there were more than 1 million hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption, and almost 300,000 were wholly attributable to alcohol consumption or classed as alcohol specific. Alcohol abuse not only harms those who drink but impacts on society as well. Heavy drinking can not only damage one’s physical and mental health but lead to assaults and leave one vulnerable to assault. There were nearly 10,000 casualties of drink-driving the UK in 2012, including 230 killed. In almost half of all violent incidents, the victim believed that the offender was under the influence of alcohol. Perhaps most remarkable of all, according to Alcohol Concern, the NHS estimates that some 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence; that the cost of alcohol misuse in England is an estimated £21 billion in healthcare, crime and lost productivity; that the cost to the hard-pressed NHS is £3.5 billion; and that the cost in terms of crime is £11 billion. It is difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the social and economic cost.
Why do we continue to tolerate heavy drinking and many city centres being awash with drunken youths on Saturday evenings, and why are we willing to excuse clearly inebriated individuals in all sorts of social settings but do not tolerate those who take other psychoactive substances? Why is one type of misuse apparently culturally acceptable, or at least tolerated, but not the other? Should we not adopt the same approach to all psychoactive substances that can produce serious personal, social and economic harm? Why do we seek to ban the manufacture and distribution of one but not the other? My noble friend may say that the answer is purely practical: that we cannot ban the production and sale of alcohol because such a ban would be unenforceable; we would be emulating the USA of the 1920s. If that is the case, let us have that on the record. Is the use of legal highs on such a scale that a ban on their production and distribution can be enforced, or, at least, is that the justification? If so, what is the evidence that such a prohibition is enforceable? What consideration has been given to the alternatives?
Why do the Government think that regulation and education are the best approach to tackling alcohol issues but not legal highs? I hold no brief for legal highs, but I hold no brief for alcohol either. I regard them all as potentially harmful substances. I would not dream of drinking alcohol. Some noble Lords may say, “You don’t know what you’re missing”. I wonder how those noble Lords would respond to someone who takes legal highs saying to them, “You don’t know what you’re missing”. Let us therefore be quite clear as to the reason why we ban one type of damaging psychoactive substance but not another. Why is alcohol in Schedule 1? What is the Government’s intellectual case for treating it as an exempted substance? I beg to move.
My Lords, had I spoken at Second Reading I would have supported the Government’s aims of trying to avoid the harms which arise from legal highs and to prevent them wherever possible. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, I would have gone on to ask why the Government are so inconsistent in their approach. Ethyl alcohol is a psychoactive substance. There is no question whatever about that—the Government cannot disagree. It will be very interesting to hear why they believe it should be treated differently.
When one considers the differing approaches the Government take to alcohol these days, one sees the great sledge-hammer—that is the best way to describe it—that has been brought in to deal with an issue that, although worrying, is a nut compared with the boulder that is alcohol and the problems it creates for our society. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, just described those problems, so I will not repeat them. The Government should think long and hard about moving, fairly quickly, on some of their policies on alcohol if they want to carry the confidence of this House in trying to make changes of this nature. They have a responsibility deal whereby, in partnership with the drinks industry, they seek to reduce the volume of alcohol consumed in this country. They have targets, yet the Chancellor stands up in March and announces a freeze in duty on wine, beer and cider and a reduction in some other areas, including a 2% reduction in the duty on spirits.
The Government will not use pricing as a mechanism to try to discourage drinking, and the drinks industry sees that such pricing effectively discourages people from buying its products, so it lobbies the Government to reduce duties, which the Government, in turn, do. On the one hand we have the responsibility deal, with its targets that seek to reduce the consumption of alcohol, while on the other hand we have the statement made by the Chancellor. As the Government documents produced after the Budget prove, he will in fact increase the volume of alcohol that is sold, which, in turn, will increase the harms that arise for people who abuse it. So, a conflict does arise. I want to persuade the Minister to think ahead about what might be happening with alcohol and alcohol-related substances, and about whether there is a case for making a change to the schedule.
As long ago as last summer, I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about a powdered white alcohol called Palcohol which is being marketed in the United States. Powdered alcohol has been around in Europe for quite some time. It was produced in Germany and then in Holland about seven or eight years ago but was not marketed. It is now being produced and marketed in the States. I wrote to the noble Earl to find out what the Government were doing in their conversations with the drinks industry at the responsibility deal level. The reply was:
“The Department has not discussed the import, production and sale in the United Kingdom of Palcahol and its European equivalents with partners in the Responsibility Deal”.
I also wrote to the noble Lord in the Home Office to ask,
“what assessment they have made of the decision of five states in the United States to ban the sale of Palcahol”.
“The Government is aware of powdered alcohol from media reports and the banning of the product in five states of the United States of America. The Government is not aware of powdered alcohol being marketed or made available to buy in England and Wales”.—[Official Report, 6/1/15; col. WA 107.]
I followed that up with another Question:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the status under the Licensing Act 2003 or the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 of imports from the United States or Europe of alcohol powders”.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, told me:
“Although the Act refers to liquids and this product is sold in solid form, it is intended to be drunk as a liquid”.
I tell the Minister that he is not quite up to date with what people are doing with this powdered drink. They are not simply taking it as a liquid; it can be snorted. Admittedly it is an uncomfortable experience, I understand, but it can be snorted. More particularly, it can be baked into cakes or go into confectionary and a whole range of products that people are now contemplating using it in. The noble Lord went on to say:
“The Government is not aware of powdered alcohol being marketed or made available to buy in England and Wales, although we are aware of its sale in other countries. In the event that there is a proposal to market powdered alcohol in England and Wales, the Home Office will make a formal assessment of its legal position”.—[Official Report, 7/1/15; col. WA 223.]
I would argue that this is the day when the Government can start to look at the legal position of Palcohol and at whether they are prepared to see it come into the country. If so, how are they going to handle it? It will shortly be available on the internet and imported through the internet, because that is how it will be marketed. It is already spreading on a wide scale within the US and, as night follows day, it will come to the UK.
Therefore, I suggest that the Government go back to the Answers that they sent me. I suggest that they look at what is happening in the United States at the moment, the problems that are arising there and the reasons why some of the states have banned it. If they are not prepared to accept in totality the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which I support—although I suspect that the Government will not—I also suggest that they look at whether they are at least prepared to consider whether this is a borderline area in which they should take some action, which they could do under this legislation. If they are sensible, they will look to the future, lay the ground, put this substance into the schedule and ban it, in the same way as they are banning legal highs. I hope that they are prepared to consider that.
My Lords, I could never hope to give my noble friend an intellectual answer as to why all alcohol is exempted, but perhaps I can try to give him a legal one and a practical political one.
Most alcohol policy in the United Kingdom is now controlled by the EU and we have a few little bits left. I refer the Committee to the last report conducted by EU Sub-Committee F on the EU alcohol strategy. It was an eye-opener for all of us. Given the parts of alcohol policy we control, if we were to be completely consistent, there would probably be an increase in the price of Scotch whisky. However, that cannot be done for a variety of reasons—not least, it would probably feed into nationalism. With regard to the other parts of the policy, cider is desperately underpriced. No Government have felt it appropriate—no doubt for political reasons—to increase the price and disadvantage manufacturers in the West Country. It may be that with only one Member left in the West Country—I am not meaning to be snide here—a future Labour Government may, in due course, feel it more politically acceptable to put up the price of cider.
The parts that are controlled by the EU mean that, for example, we see on wine and spirit bottles in this country how many units of alcohol are in a glass and how many are in the bottle. That is a purely voluntary system because we are not allowed, under EU rules, to make it compulsory. We also discovered on the committee that some young people—mainly women, although men as well—may be on some form of crash diet and think they can avoid fatty food and sugars and just drink white wine instead. We are not allowed to put the calorific value of a glass of wine on the bottle, except by some voluntary means.
In Scotland, they are trying to conduct an excellent experiment on unit pricing. There may be considerable merit in unit pricing and I think that the Government in England are watching carefully to see how they get on. But of course they have been taken to the European Court, where it may be regarded as a constraint on trade —so Scotland may be prohibited from using unit pricing under EU rules. I could go on, but I will not, because I do not want to be seen to be too mischievous on this. However, there are a lot of other aspects of alcohol policy that we are no longer completely in charge of.
The other, more serious point is that all of us on EU Sub-Committee F, including my colleagues, noble Lords and Baronesses who are much more experienced than I, began the report a year ago thinking that alcohol abuse was out of control in this country, that everyone was drinking more and that we had a terrible problem. We were very surprised to discover that alcohol use is declining, particularly among young people. We cannot have an EU alcohol strategy because every country has a completely different problem. They all have problems with binge drinking, but different age groups are bingeing on different kinds of alcohol. What we discovered is that a small minority are drinking more to excess. I think that I am right in saying that alcohol deaths through cirrhosis of the liver have increased, but it is a smaller minority drinking extraordinary amounts—one or two bottles of vodka or scotch a day, so long as they can afford it. But overall, alcohol reduction policies are working.
In conclusion, I say to my noble friend that if he wants to really have more control over alcohol policy and be able to implement his amendment, he will need to vote no in the referendum when it comes.
My Lords, I want to make a brief but important point. In responding to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will the Minister address his mind to not only the illogicality but the danger of exempting alcohol from the scope of the Bill while banning relatively very safe psychoactive substances? If this ban works at all—the Minister knows that I am pretty sceptical about it—the Government would, in effect, be preventing or discouraging very strongly young people from taking relatively very safe substances while encouraging them, one could argue, to drink alcohol, which we know is a killer drug. Therefore, I ask the Minister, in responding the noble Lord, Lord Norton, to address that particular point about the danger of banning substances while leaving alcohol exempt.
My Lords, I want to make a quick point because the subject of alcohol has been introduced into the debate. Although I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Meacher about not classing all drugs together, the idea that we should include alcohol in this would, equally, cause huge problems. Every society in the world has always had something that allowed them to let their hair down at parties. Introducing the subject of alcohol into this sort of debate always makes me think of the definition of a puritan as someone who has a haunting fear that someone somewhere might be enjoying themselves. I get very worried when we try to cover all these things and try to stop everything.
As to the point about increasing the price of alcohol and unit pricing, some time ago some young people pointed out to me that if you increase the price of alcohol, the price of drugs becomes relatively cheaper. It drives people away from something over which we have relative control, which we deliver in controlled concentrations that we understand, into an area over which we have less control. That is very dangerous. We should be careful about trying to alter people’s behaviour in relation to alcohol by pricing mechanisms. There are a lot of people who may be medically qualified, but they do not understand market pressures. That is the only word of caution that I shall say on this matter.
Oh, that I could get away with that, although I can say that it is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to criminalise the consumption of alcohol. On that, we might be clear.
I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. He has spotted a certain lack of consistency in approach and wishes to draw the Committee’s attention to it. As a distinguished academic, he then invited me to put forward an intellectual case that would satisfy him. Of course, he knows that that will not necessarily be forthcoming.
As I listened to the debate, the thought occurred to me that the nearest you could get to an intellectual case would be to say that you would not necessarily be starting from here with alcohol. It has been enjoyed and endured, probably in equal measure, for about as long as people have been walking around in this great land of ours. Therefore, alcohol has been part of our culture and our society for millennia.
That is true. I see my officials in the box becoming terribly nervous, as I am jousting way out of my depth here and I should just stick to the script. The point which I was trying to make was that we are dealing in this Bill with a new menace, where there are no controls. People of any age can go into a head shop and procure products which are designated as plant food or as not fit for human consumption. There is no supervision of their manufacture; nobody is required to produce an ID card; and they are unregulated. We have explored different ways of dealing with them and have come down on the side of a blanket ban. I will leave it to the Committee to deduce whether, if alcohol were to be introduced into society today, we would take a different approach. That might be as close as I can possibly get to addressing that.
Let me put on the record some remarks about the Government’s position on alcohol. Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost society more than £21 billion a year. This figure includes the £11 billion cost of alcohol-related crime and £3.5 billion in costs to the NHS. The harm caused to health is clear. Alcohol misuse is one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death after smoking and obesity. In 2013, more than 6,500 deaths in England were due directly to alcohol consumption. There has also been a steady increase in the number of adults accessing specialist alcohol treatment services, from just over 100,000 people in 2008-09 to nearly 115,000 people in 2013-14.
Alcohol is also a key driver of crime. In particular, it is strongly associated with violent crime. In 53% of violent incidents, victims perceive offenders to be under the influence of alcohol. This is clearly unacceptable.
We can all agree that alcohol, when consumed excessively, is a dangerous substance, which is why the sale of alcohol is tightly controlled under existing legislation. However, when used responsibly, alcohol plays an important social part in our communities. More than £10 billion is raised each year in alcohol duty and more than £38 billion worth of alcoholic beverages were sold in the UK in 2011. Almost 2 million jobs in the UK are said to be linked to the alcohol industry in some way.
The Government’s alcohol strategy, launched in 2012, promoted targeted action to reduce crime and health problems caused by alcohol without disproportionately affecting responsible drinkers. Local communities, agencies and businesses are best placed to identify and deal with alcohol-related problems in their area. The Home Office has worked with 20 local alcohol action areas to tackle the harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption. These areas worked on initiatives to strengthen local partnerships and share innovative ideas that work. Some of the areas which looked at ways to reduce alcohol-related health harms also explored the evidence and local processes that would be required to introduce a health-related licensing objective to address alcohol-related health harms caused by high density of premises. The project ended in March, and Home Office officials are collating the learning from the work that took place in each of the areas with a view to sharing it more widely in due course.
The alcohol industry has an important part to play, too. The Government challenged the industry to take action as part of the public health responsibility deal. The industry has taken a number of positive steps, such as reducing the number of alcoholic units sold and putting more information on labels—though not as much as my noble friend Lord Blencathra would ask us to, probably for the reasons that he alluded to. In addition, the Government have asked Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, to oversee a review of the alcohol guidelines to ensure that they are founded on the best science and help people at all stages of life to make informed choices about their drinking. The review is under way and we expect consultation on new guidelines to take place from the autumn.
There have also been government-led initiatives on alcohol and drug prevention in schools. In March 2013, the Department for Education launched a new drug and alcohol information and advice service for schools, providing information and resources on what works and assisting local areas to choose interventions which are right for their circumstances. The Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education Association has produced a revised programme of study based on the needs of today’s pupils and schools which includes alcohol and drug education. In February 2015, Public Health England launched the Rise Above website, helping to empower young people to make positive choices about issues that have a profound impact on their health. In its first two months, the site received more than 250,000 visits.
Since the alcohol strategy was launched, there has been a reduction in the level of alcohol-related violence. Consistent with trends in overall violent crime, there has been a 34% fall in the number of violent incidents perceived as alcohol related since 2004-05. There have also been reductions in the level of binge drinking and in the number of 11 to 15 year-olds drinking alcohol. The Government have sent a strong message that selling alcohol to children is unacceptable, and there is now an unlimited fine for persistently selling alcohol to children.
Looking ahead, this Government are committed to building on the successes of the alcohol strategy to tackle alcohol as a driver of crime and to supporting people to stay healthy. When misused, alcohol is undoubtedly a harmful substance, and it is right that its availability is properly regulated and that we tackle the health and crime-related issues that arise when people drink to excess. But for most of the population, alcohol is not a dangerous psychoactive substance which should be subject to the blanket ban provided for in the Bill. I hope that, having prompted this timely debate, my noble friend will be content to keep alcohol as an exempted substance for the purpose of the Bill and consider withdrawing his amendment.
The noble Lord is right. We will go back and look again at those Written Answers. We are alert to the risk of powdered alcohol and are actively looking at how best to meet this challenge. However, we are not persuaded by this amendment. We are alert to the problem and are looking at it. I will be happy to meet with the noble Lord, together with officials, if he has new evidence to share with us about how the problem of powdered alcohol is being tackled in other countries and if and how it is being used in this country.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken. It has been a useful discussion for getting certain matters on the record. We may have done a public service by finding out what the Opposition’s policy is on this matter.
The Minister’s response—and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, to some extent—made my case for me. The point that we have established is that there is no principled case for the exemption. The Minister basically said that it is difficult to ban it, that we are where we are and that it brings in a lot of money to the Treasury. That has to be set against the damage that alcohol misuse causes, as I have detailed and, indeed, as my noble friend confirmed in the data that he placed before us. My noble friends Lord Blencathra and the Minister made the point that I was making—that in relation to alcohol there is an approach of regulate and educate—so why are we not being consistent? That is the issue that I was raising and it is important that it is borne in mind. If we are going to proceed, we have to be clear about why we are doing this. Where is the consistency? What is the intellectual case? As we have heard—as my noble friend confirmed—there is not one.
I am sure my noble friend will be relieved to know that I do not intend to press the amendment, nor is it something that would lend itself to come back to on Report. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who has raised an important issue which is worth pursuing. I do not intend to pursue the broad issue that I have raised, but I hope that throughout our discussions this will remain the elephant in the room. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
30: Schedule 1, page 34, line 29, after “any” insert “other”
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 31, 32, 33 and 34. In view of the debate on the previous amendment, I should declare that some of my friends say that, when doctors ask the question, “Does anyone ever comment on your drinking?”, I should say yes because I drink so little. On the other hand, coffee and chocolate—now, there you are talking.
I am concerned about the definitions in Schedule 1. For example,
“‘caffeine products’ means any product which … contains caffeine, and … does not contain any psychoactive substance”.
I am bemused by this. It must mean “does not contain any other psychoactive substance”, in which case we should say so. We have heard that the Government will be responding to the Constitution Committee. I will not say that the committee was also bemused—that would be very disrespectful—but it pointed out some issues with the relationships between exemptions and so on. We await the response.
The first three amendments are all the same and the fourth one is, in essence, the same as the first three. The last amendment in this group refers to instruments relating to food. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about the amount of EU regulation on this issue. I am interested in the words,
“the use of which in or on food is not authorised by an EU instrument”.
Should it not be “an EU or other applicable instrument”, which is what I am suggesting?
Even if there is no secondary legislation or any ruling which applies to this, perhaps we should future-proof it in case there is. I beg to move.
When my noble friend comes to do that, perhaps she will help me with the problem that I have got. I feel that “instrument” is probably not the right word, particularly when used with food. This is one of the ugliest bits of this ugly Bill, and any prettying up of this part would be very helpful.
My Lords, I understand that these are probing amendments which seek an explanation of some of the drafting in Schedule 1. Amendments 30 to 33 broadly deal with the same point, although Amendment 33 is in different terms to the others.
I am hesitant to say this following that which we have just heard but, taking alcohol as an example, Schedule 1 defines an alcoholic product as,
“any product which … contains alcohol, and … does not contain any psychoactive substance”.
The question is why the second limb of this definition does not refer to “any other psychoactive substance”. The answer is logical but, needless to say, not entirely straightforward. It hinges on the distinction between the natural meaning of the term “psychoactive substance” and the meaning given to that term by the Bill.
Under Clause 2, as we now all know, a psychoactive substance is a substance which,
“is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, and”—
“is not an exempted substance”.
Alcohol is an exempted substance and so is not a psychoactive substance for the purposes of the Bill. It is therefore not necessary to refer in the definition of alcoholic product to “any other psychoactive substance” because we have already excluded alcohol from the definition of a psychoactive substance. I hope that makes sense.
Amendment 34 touches on a different issue—food additives and flavourings. These are already authorised under the EU legislation so the reference in paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 to an EU instrument—ugly though that may sound—is all that is required. My understanding is that this amendment would expand the paragraph referred to to read “an EU or other applicable instrument”. However, only EU instruments are relevant here and so the additional words are not required. I should perhaps add that we have discussed and agreed with the Food Standards Agency the approach taken in paragraph 10 in Schedule 1.
The noble Baroness suggested that the additional words might provide future-proofing. However, I remind her that there is a regulation-making power in Clause 3 designed with that in mind. In the light of this rather complicated explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, the Official Report will not record the facial expressions around the Chamber in response to the Minister. I think I follow what has been said, but whether it is a sensible way of writing legislation I rather doubt. Legislation should say what it really means and not leave us struggling to justify such really quite difficult wording. I am tempted to press this to a Division, but we have a lot to get through today so I will not take the time now, but who knows? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 to 34 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 4: Producing a psychoactive substance
35: Clause 4, page 2, line 22, leave out “suspects” and insert “thinks”
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 36 to 38, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. Amendment 35 amends the offence of producing a psychoactive substance so that a person commits an offence under Clause 4(1)(b) if he or she,
“knows or thinks that the substance is a psychoactive substance”,
rather than if he or she “suspects” it. Amendments 36 and 37 make a similar change to the offence of supply or offering to supply under Clause 5(1)(c) to read that the person “knows or thinks” or ought to
“know or think, that the substance is a psychoactive substance”.
Amendment 38 is probing in nature to delete Clause 5(3) simply to try to elicit from the Minister an explanation of what on earth the subsection actually means.
Police officers suspect while the rest of us think. I am picturing myself with a person I have just arrested—sometimes I dream that I am still in the police; rather, it is a nightmare—in the tape-recording interview room at the police station, when I ask him, “Did you suspect this to be a psychoactive substance?”. Surely the question is whether the suspect thought that it was a psychoactive substance, not whether he suspected it to be one. “Suspect” is rather value-laden, which usually has negative connotations. “If you suspect it, report it”, is the latest from the Metropolitan Police. To us it seems more sensible to substitute “thinks” for “suspects” in the context of these offences.
On Amendment 38, perhaps the Minister can explain what:
“For the purposes of subsection (2)(b), the reference to a substance’s psychoactive effects includes a reference to the psychoactive effects which the substance would have if it were the substance which P had offered to R”,
means, and why it is necessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and to get to the heart of it, is that we believe that “knows or suspects” is an established term. It has been used in, for example, Section 21A of the Terrorism Act 2000, Section 2(16) of the Criminal Justice Act 1987—
“Where any person—
(a) knows or suspects that an investigation by the police or the Serious Fraud Office”—
and Section 83ZN(4) of the Banking Act 2009, which states:
“(4) A person who knows or suspects that an investigation is being or is likely to be conducted under section 83ZC”.
I simply cite the examples to show that this is a term which has broad acceptance. However, I shall take up the noble Lord’s invitation to put on the record a few words to expand on what is meant by these clauses.
Amendments 35, 36 and 37 seek to make a slight change to the mental element of the offences in Clauses 4 and 5, which relate to the production and supply of psychoactive substances. In drafting these offences, we consulted the national policing lead for new psychoactive substances and the Crown Prosecution Service. We believe that the current formulation of these offences is proportionate and fair, capturing those individuals who intentionally produce, supply or offer to supply these dangerous substances while not criminalising accidental behaviour.
To satisfy the mental elements of the production offence, the prosecution must show that the production is intentional, that the defendant knew or suspected that the substance is a psychoactive substance, and that the defendant must either intend to consume the psychoactive substance for its psychoactive effects, or know or be reckless as to whether the psychoactive substance is likely to be consumed by another person for its psychoactive effects. The mental elements of the supply offence in Clause 5 are similar; namely, that the prosecution must show that supplying the substance is intentional, that the defendant knew or suspected, or ought to know or suspect, that the substance is a psychoactive substance, and the defendant must know or be reckless as to whether the psychoactive substance is likely to be consumed by the person to whom it is supplied or by another person for its psychoactive effects.
Amendments 35 to 37 seek to remove “suspects” and replace it with “thinks”. Given the two words’ natural meaning, the requirement of each is very similar. However, we believe that the use of “think” raises the bar too high in terms of what must be proved. Thinking something suggests that a person needs to be “satisfied” or “believe” that something is the case—I am having a moment of déjà vu here with the then Serious Crime Bill, because we went through the mens rea discussions then—which is a higher test than that which we propose. The formula “knows or suspects” is commonly used in the criminal law to describe the mental element or mens rea of the offence. It is a phrase that is well understood. “Knows” demonstrates a true belief. Suspicion is a subjective test and need not be based on reasonable grounds, but there must be a possibility which is more than fanciful that the relevant facts exist. The courts have held that a “vague feeling of unease” would not suffice to prove suspicion, but the suspicion need not be “clearly” or “firmly” grounded and targeted on specific facts or based upon reasonable grounds.
The Government considered whether the mental element should extend only as far as “knows”, but we concluded that this could create an inappropriately high bar for prosecutors to overcome, with defendants arguing that they did not know for certain that the substance they were producing or supplying was a psychoactive substance. Given, as I have said, that a “knows or suspects” test is commonly used in the criminal law, I am satisfied that it is well understood by investigators, prosecutors and defence lawyers. I am therefore not persuaded of the case for change.
Under Clause 5(2) there are two limbs to the offer to supply offence. First, person A must offer to supply a psychoactive substance to person B. The second limb requires that person A knows or is reckless as to whether person B, or some other person, would, if a substance was supplied in accordance with the offer, be likely to consume the substance for its psychoactive effects. I realise that these are complex legal terms, but I have to say that they probably fit well with a number of cases that I have personally looked into. I am thinking of head shops selling psychoactive substances in bright packaging. To avoid prosecution, the label states that the substance is plant food or a research chemical that is not for human consumption. Clearly, that is what we are aiming to get at so that there is no loophole. Given the way this second limb operates, no offence would be committed if the substance that was in fact supplied was not a psychoactive substance. It will come as no surprise to noble Lords that not all drug dealers are entirely honest. An offer may be made to supply a psychoactive substance, but the person making the offer may intend to defraud the recipient by passing off some benign white powder as the real thing. Indeed the person making the offer may not intend to supply anything, but simply take the money and run. Clause 5(3) is intended to catch those circumstances. What matters here is that the defendant made an offer to supply a psychoactive substance and should not be able to evade prosecution under Clause 5 on the grounds that he or she did not intend to fulfil their side of the deal.
I accept the probing nature of the amendment and I hope that the noble Lord will find that these explanations, even if they have not entirely satisfied him, have allowed us to put some additional remarks on the record that may be helpful in understanding the Government’s intent in bringing forward this clause.
My Lords, I thought that that was a superb explanation but I want to tax the Minister, if I might. There are many ordinary substances—glue being the obvious one, but there are a lot of other things such as spruce logs, which you can burn—which you can use in extremis in the absence of other things for psychoactive purposes. Usually, a supplier of these things would not have to ask themselves whether I intended to use the tube of UHU for psychoactive purposes. When this law is enforced, what rules will apply to a retailer when they are selling something? Most plastic packaging when burnt or heated will produce fumes with a psychoactive effect. What does the retailer have to do not to be reckless? If they think that I am someone who might do that sort of thing, does that qualify? If I sell something to someone, not particularly caring what they will use it for, and they go and kill themselves by using it for psychoactive purposes, am I going to be come after? What are the rules? What do I have to do as a retailer of perfectly ordinary things if there is a potential psychoactive use for them?
My noble friend is correct in the sense that there are rules that exist relating to solvent abuse, the use of solvents in that regard and protections for retailers. However, we are very clear here as to the target audience for the purpose of this measure: individuals who are seeking to manufacture psychoactive substances for the purposes of being consumed by people for their psychoactive effect, or to supply, import or export. We do not believe that they will come into the categories of what would be appropriate retail activity. My noble friend makes a wider point, though. I will reflect again with officials on his remarks in the Official Report, and if I can expand upon that point to provide some additional guidance I will certainly write to him and copy it to other Members of the Committee.
Amendment 35 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance
Amendments 36 to 38 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
39: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Possession for personal use
Possession for personal use of any psychoactive substances, including psychoactive substances hitherto controlled under the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, is not a criminal offence.”
My Lords, this amendment proposes that the possession for personal use of any psychoactive substances, including psychoactive substances hitherto controlled under the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, is not a criminal offence. We touched quite extensively on this issue in the debate on Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but his amendment ranged considerably wider. I hope that the Committee will be willing to focus more tightly on the specific issue that is expressed in the proposed new clause.
In recent years, some 25 countries have removed criminal penalties for personal possession of some or all drugs. Now, for the first time, Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom are tiptoeing towards the decriminalisation of possession for personal use because they have omitted, quite deliberately, to criminalise such possession where psychoactive substances are concerned, as defined in the Bill. However, that raises the question of why they are stopping at new psychoactive substances and, of course, the substances that are exempted in Schedule 1. Why do they not now proceed to decriminalise possession for personal use of small amounts of drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971? The policy is inconsistent and confusing. As such, I fear that it is liable to damage respect for the law, and the law in respect of drugs is already not much respected as it is.
Why does the Home Office judge it appropriate to criminalise young people wholesale? I am advised that in the period 2009 to 2013, 59,742 young people under the age of 20 were criminalised for possession of controlled drugs—something like 29% of young people in that age group who received a criminal record. Such an approach is clumsy, to say the least, and I submit that it is very damaging to those young people: the short-term and long-term effects of having a criminal record weigh heavily on their educational and employment prospects and their prospects of being able to obtain credit. It is also expensive for the Exchequer. The continuation of this criminalisation appears to ignore the findings of the Home Office’s own study, Drugs: International Comparators, which found that the relative toughness of the prohibitionist approach makes no difference to actual consumption.
Like it or not, the recreational use of drugs is widespread in our society. Indeed, I would say that in certain sections of society it is normal. I do not know whether we are welcoming the Minister on his return from a fact-finding mission to Glastonbury at the weekend; he may perhaps have been invited by the organisers in his official ministerial capacity or perhaps he went incognito, possibly not even wearing his suit. I like to think that he was accompanied by Lady Bates and that she may have been bearing in her hand at least a small posy of flowers, because it could be the last time under this legislation that he will have the opportunity to give her flowers—then he will have to default to his position of presenting her with chocolates.
If the Minister was at Glastonbury, no doubt he will have ignored the vapourings coming from left field from such figures as Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church, but he will not have failed to notice that significant numbers of young people there were consuming psychoactive substances. Possibly he regards all of them as lost souls. Still, he may have taken some satisfaction from knowing that this will be the last time that drugs will be consumed at Glastonbury because, through the virtues of this legislation, he will have completed the circle of prohibition: it will be impossible for them legally to obtain psychoactive substances in future. Such will be the zeal for enforcement of the police and other authorities, prioritising this prohibition alongside their duties to deal with illegal immigration and threats of terrorism, he can be confident that next year no drugs will be consumed at Glastonbury—unless, perhaps, psychoactive substances descend like manna from heaven on to the fields of Glastonbury, because that is still a possibility. Miracles do occur, and it is not impossible that psychoactive substances will continue to be consumed at Glastonbury and other festivals.
We need a realistic and constructive approach to this matter. The constructive policy is to decriminalise the possession of all drugs for personal use—to legalise, to regulate and, as we have noted in earlier debates, to have a serious campaign to inform and educate people about the realities and dangers of drugs. How helpful it would be if we could distinguish legally between the recreational use of drugs and problem usage. Through decriminalising, I believe that we could get more people, more quickly into more effective help and treatment. This is the difference between the Swedish approach and the Portuguese approach, which we discussed earlier. Decriminalisation, as recommended in the proposed new clause, would release the police from so much futile activity.
I am told that Her Majesty’s Government are spending something of the order of £1.5 billion a year on drug law enforcement. The impact assessment for the Bill, at paragraph 75, anticipates that the costs of the new measures to the public sector will be only £60,000 in year 1 and £50,000 a year thereafter. This is a joke: all the new offences created and all the enforcement activities legislated for in the Bill will cost a lot of money. We would do better to switch that expenditure and other expenditure into a real drive on information, education, youth work, healthcare through Public Health England and doing very much better about drugs in prisons.
Should we be condemning or should we be helping? In our society, there is no consensus as to whether the use of drugs is a crime, a vice, a weakness, an illness, an adventure, an act of rebellion or a recreation. It is all these things to different people at different times. But if we cease treating it as a crime, we will, as I have said before, greatly reduce the alienation of so many young people from politics and government, and we will be better placed to help people in need.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked me to convey her apologies to the Committee that she is unable to speak to her Amendment 46. She has had to go because she is hosting a reception for Leonard Cheshire Disability, which is being attended by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 39 and to speak to Amendments 45 and 52, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I agree with some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. However, I got a touch of déjà vu because I think I made out the case for the decriminalisation of drugs when I spoke to Amendment 23. I will not go over that again.
Amendment 45 clarifies the offence of intentionally importing a psychoactive substance under Clause 7(1)(a) to exclude the importation if it is,
“for the person’s own consumption”.
Amendment 52 makes a similar change to the definition of “prohibited activity”. It would amend Clause 11(1)(d) to read,
“importing such a substance other than for the person’s own consumption”.
As we have heard, the Government do not intend to make possession of psychoactive substances under this Bill a criminal offence. This Bill is targeted at those who supply such substances. While it is therefore reasonable and logical for the importation of such substances for sale or supply to also be an offence, it seems disproportionate to make importation solely for one’s own consumption an offence.
What will happen if this Bill becomes law is what happened in Ireland when similar provisions were enacted. People who currently buy their psychoactive substances from head shops will instead buy them from street drug dealers or, more likely, buy them online. Under this Bill, the police will be able to close down UK-based websites, forcing users to buy their drugs from websites overseas. When they buy their drugs from such websites, they will be guilty of importing psychoactive substances, even if their only intention is to consume the drugs themselves. It seems inconsistent for the Government not to criminalise possession of psychoactive substances under this Bill but still to criminalise people for trying to possess them in this way.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, we have had the debate on decriminalisation already today. I can only repeat our position that we do not believe that we should be moving to decriminalise possession of a wider range of substances currently controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 through an amendment to the Bill, which is designed to address a specific issue that has developed very quickly over the last few years in respect of new psychoactive substances as defined in the Bill. As the noble Lord said, another amendment in the group seeks to provide that importing new psychoactive substances should not constitute an offence where the substance is for the individual’s own consumption. That issue was raised at Second Reading.
We will listen with interest to the reply from the Minister, since there is a need to have a very clear definition of which activities, if any, that might be involved in achieving personal possession of new psychoactive substances for personal consumption, which is not an offence under the Bill, are or are not also covered by the non-offence provisions in the Bill. To pursue the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will the Minister say whether the reference in Clause 8 to a person committing an offence if they intentionally import a substance for their own consumption is intended to cover the situation where the substance is ordered online from outside the country? What happens if the individual concerned, in ordering the substance online, is not aware of whether it has come from within or outside this country, and it is subsequently proved that it has come from outside this country? Is that person guilty of an offence under the Bill?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for introducing this amendment. The amendments in this group relate to the personal use of such substances. Let me assure the noble Lord at the outset that the Bill does not make possession of a psychoactive substance for personal use a criminal offence. Similarly, it is not an offence to possess for personal use a drug subject to a temporary class drug order. In that sense, the current process is consistent with the way in which we have tackled such issues in the Misuse of Drugs Act, in that the intention is to catch the suppliers and manufacturers of the products.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, whose apologies we note, have argued that the Bill is internally inconsistent in making it an offence to import a psychoactive substance for personal use but not criminalising personal possession. I hope I can persuade the Committee that this is not the case. The very principle of this Bill, as recommended by the expert panel, is to tackle the supply of these substances. Given that the vast majority of these substances are imported from abroad, clearly, if we are to tackle the supply, we need to ensure that we have in place a robust importation offence and that the Border Force has sufficient powers to effectively stop these substances crossing the border. On that point, I advise the Committee that the Government intend to table further amendments to ensure that the Border Force can access the powers under the Customs and Exercise Management Act 1979 when it intercepts psychoactive substances coming into the UK.
We cannot have a robust importation offence if we permit small quantities of psychoactive substances to be imported for personal use. We want to stop all these dangerous substances entering the country, not facilitate their use. The expert panel was clear that the Bill should focus on the supply of these substances and target all sources, even social supply, which can be a gateway for people into regular drug use. Any supplier of a new psychoactive substance is contributing to the overall drugs problem.
The substances caught in this Bill are deliberately being treated differently from the drugs controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The 1971 Act controls drugs where we have expert evidence of specific harms and therefore apply the full ban on possession and supply for public protection. For those not—or not yet—controlled under the 1971 Act, we are targeting the trade alone. However, allowing possession of a psychoactive substance is one thing; deliberately weakening the controls by creating a loophole that allows the importation of small quantities is something else, both in principle and in practice.
I have already outlined one risk in allowing importation of personal quantities—that of creating the possibility for individuals to import multiple packages of small quantities of psychoactive substances, which on their own are consistent with personal use but could enter the supply chain when combined. There is a raft of practical challenges with this approach: how much would constitute personal use? Would it cover all substances? Would you allow someone to import a year’s worth of substances for their personal use? That could, depending on the substance, be a significant quantity.
Another concern would be the enforcement challenges that this new approach would create. A blanket importation ban simplifies enforcement by the Border Force: any psychoactive substance found at the border and which is evidently intended for human consumption can be seized and destroyed, unless it is an exempted substance or for an exempted activity. Allowing smaller packages for personal use would impose significant demands on the Border Force, requiring it to investigate the importation in each and every case to determine whether the seized substances are for onward supply or personal use. It would simply be unrealistic and an unnecessary burden to put this measure in place.
On the website question, which is a fair point, it should be said that there were two effects of the Irish experience: one was immediately to close down the head shops in the Republic of Ireland; the other was to allow the Government to take down the websites that were supplying these substances, which were on a Republic of Ireland domain. On the offences committed when there is the intention to import, if you can prove that you did not know the website was overseas and that you were importing, you would not have intentionally imported. Is that clear? Perhaps it is just not clear to me. Let me read it again: on the offences committed when it is intentionally imported, if you can prove that you did not know the website was overseas when you were importing, you would not have intentionally imported. Yes, that is very clear.
Finally, I should add that the importation of psychoactive substance offences in both Ireland and Australia also apply to all quantities imported: there is no exemption for personal consumption. Amendment 52 would stand or fall with Amendment 45, as it seeks to make a consequential amendment to the list of prohibited activities to replicate the change in the importation offence.
I hope that I have been able to provide some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. I suspect I may have been unable to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. However, having given the issue a good airing, I hope that he and other noble Lords will not feel the need to press their amendments.
My Lords, the groupings were perhaps not quite right, at least as far as Amendment 39 is concerned. That is probably my fault, but I am grateful to noble Lords for their participation and presence in this short but worthwhile debate.
The Minister’s charm is such that he would almost persuade the Committee to agree to what is palpably bad legislation, and I congratulate him on his manner at the Dispatch Box. In seeking to refute the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, he said that we could not have a partial relaxation of a ban on importation for personal use because it is very important that the Border Force has powers—those powers will be further supplemented in amendments to come—to ensure that, in the phrase I think he used, all these dangerous substances do not get through. He went on to say that there is also the Misuse of Drugs Act, which would allow the proscription of individual substances where there is evidence that they are dangerous. There is quite a tension, if not an inconsistency, between those points. We can think about that a little further.
As to the practicalities for the Border Force, I hope that at some point in proceedings the Minister will be able to give us some statistics about the number of packages that enter this country. We all know that there has been an enormous increase in mail order, online retailing. He mentioned that the Irish-based websites had been closed down by their legislation, but we know that the Irish have become big consumers of new psychoactive substances, even more than they were before the prohibition legislation was brought in. How are they getting them? Where are they coming in? What means are there to prevent the entry of all these packages, which Postman Pat then takes up the garden path and pops through the front door? I cannot see how the Border Force will inspect all these packages. I understand that a few years ago, it was able to inspect only some 2% of shipping containers. The Minister is landing the Border Force with a completely impossible task.
That is one of the reasons why the Republic of Ireland Government are pleased that we are following their lead in this regard. Naturally, when you make a blanket ban, as they have done, people find it very easy simply to cross the border—which, of course, is not really there—to obtain these supplies in the north of Ireland. I can give the noble Lord some quick statistics. More than three and a half tonnes of new psychoactive substances were seized by Border Force officers in 2014-15—a 75% increase on the previous year. Officers undertake targeted physical checks, supported by technology such as X-ray and new portable FirstDefender devices, to intercept suspected packages out of the 250,000 parcels that come through the UK’s depots.
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, can I just say that surely there must be a way to allow all these substances—or as many as are discovered—to be confiscated by the Border Force without making importation for personal use a specific offence? Surely they can be treated as two separate things. No doubt we can discuss that during the Bill’s further stages.
We can, but the whole purpose of the legislation is to try to close the loopholes. As I explained, if there was a loophole that meant you could import for personal use, how do you actually track that? Whether it is one packet or multiple packets, what is an appropriate amount for personal use? That makes it very difficult for Border Force officials. We are taking a blanket approach, as we have with other substances, because it gives clarity to the purpose of the policy.
The noble Lord has provided us with some helpful information. I am still left puzzled as to how he thinks people will obtain these psychoactive substances, which it will not be a criminal offence to possess for personal use. Either they will have chemistry sets and synthesise them themselves, or his system of border controls and so forth will fail to work. Anyway, I am grateful for the thoughts that have been offered and the information that has been provided, and I beg leave to withdraw the proposed new clause.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Clause 6: Aggravation of offence under section 5
40: Clause 6, page 3, line 16, leave out “or B” and insert “, B or C”
My Lords, a succession of inspection reports, covering Highpoint, Bristol, Liverpool and Deerbolt prisons among others, have shown high levels of use of synthetic cannabis, known by inmates, as I understand it, as “Spice” or “Black Mamba”. These legal drugs are not identifiable, so I am told, by more than a handful of sniffer dogs, nor through mandatory drug testing. Spice can cause high levels of addiction and there have been reports of debt, bullying and violence associated with its use becoming more widespread in prisons.
The government response to the expert panel report included a commitment to improving information about new psychoactive substances in the prison estate. The Minister referred to this issue in his letter of 15 June. However, the purpose of the two amendments that my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe and I have tabled in this group is to make supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance in a prison an aggravating feature of the offence of supplying, or offering to supply. As we know, the Bill already makes it a statutory aggravating factor if the offence took place at, or in the vicinity of, a school. Surely another area of significant concern must be our prisons, where there are certainly some fairly unpleasant individuals, but there are also many potentially vulnerable people. To seek to supply, or offer to supply, a psychoactive substance within our prisons—there are different ways in which such substances get inside, whether through visitors, rogue staff, being thrown over the wall or sent in parcels or goods—is clearly making a difficult environment, with significant numbers in a relatively small space, even more awkward for both staff and inmates. I hope the Minister will share the view that supply, or offering to supply, in a prison should be an aggravating feature of such an offence, which is the purpose of our amendments. We await with interest his response to this and the other amendments in this group.
In conclusion, it was stated in the other place:
“Thirty-five per cent of prisoners have a drug addiction and 6% acquire that addiction while in prison”.
The Secretary of State for Justice said in response to that comment that,
“drug addiction is one of the principal factors that lead individuals to commit crime. It is also the case that there is an unacceptable level of drug use, both of illegal drugs and so-called legal highs, in our prisons”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/06/15; col. 737.]
If that is the Secretary of State’s view—and I do not think that too many people would be surprised that he has expressed it—surely this is an opportunity to make supplying the new psychoactive substances, or offering to supply them, an aggravating feature of the offence in addition to what is already provided for in the Bill, which covers the situation where the offence takes place at, or in the vicinity of, a school. I beg to move.
My Lords, in following the commendably concise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I wish to speak to Amendments 41, 42 and 108, standing in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. These amendments are self-evident and seek to refine and extend protection for children under Clause 6. The provenance of these amendments is the Children’s Society, which, as a result of the important work that it does protecting children, has made a compelling case that these factors need to be inserted in the Bill as additional aggravating factors.
Basically, I am asking the Committee to amend the Bill to make the supply of psychoactive substances to children under the age of 18, or in the vicinity of premises where vulnerable children reside, an aggravating factor of an offence. The evidence indicates that psychoactive substances are now increasingly being used to groom children who are in vulnerable situations and environments. As the Government have already recognised that the school environment needs to be protected, this established principle would merely be extended a little by accepting the amendments suggested by the Children’s Society. It has provided some, I hope, very helpful definitions of accommodation for vulnerable children, which I think are applicable to England and probably Wales. I do not know whether they are entirely appropriate for Scotland, but I would like the Minister’s advice on that. There are three sets of circumstances where children are particularly exposed to these situations—residential care, as defined by people in supported accommodation, and 16 year-olds and 17 year-olds who find themselves homeless. I would be interested to hear about the experience of the right reverend Prelate in this regard as I know that the church does valuable work in this area. He may be able to expand on some of the background circumstances that caused the Children’s Society to promote these amendments.
Amendment 108 seeks to apply these proposed aggravating circumstances to other controlled drugs under the 1971 legislation. As I understand it, at the moment there are merely non-statutory aggravating factors in the 1971 provisions. If Amendment 108 found favour with the Minister, I think that we would be able to ensure the same protection from the courts, as they would be required to take account of aggravating features in considering any offence.
My Lords, my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol is very sorry that he cannot be here, but I have spoken to him and am keen to add a few words of support for these amendments.
Those who work with children, young people and vulnerable adults know only too well the risks associated with residential care. In 2012, of the 16,500 children who were found to be at high risk of sexual exploitation, more than a third—35%—were children living in residential care. It seems to me that these amendments would add additional strength to the general direction of the Bill, which we on these Benches happily support. We also draw on the research and briefing of the Children’s Society.
Places which care for children, young people and vulnerable adults in either residential or supported care facilities can easily become targeted by people who, via grooming and addiction to psychoactive drugs, use control to lead children and vulnerable adults into other very serious kinds of abuse. I note the point that the noble Lord made that accepting the amendment would put this offence on the same footing as that of supplying drugs outside a school, which the Bill already makes an aggravating factor.
My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol told me that last year, in his own city of Bristol, 13 men were convicted of a string of sexual offences involving sexual abuse, trafficking, rape and prostitution of teenage girls as young as 13 years old. Their tactics were clear: in return for drugs and alcohol, young girls were forced to perform sexual acts with older men. Much more could be said but I want to support these amendments because, as I say, they would help this vulnerable group to receive additional protection.
I must say to my noble friend the Minister that I have considerable sympathy with the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. This seems to be entirely the same sort of situation as providing drugs outside schools—perhaps even more so. I accept the argument that, per head of population, the people in what I would call a children’s home—I do not know the modern, politically correct term for a children’s home, but those in residential care or whatever—are more vulnerable than the generality of kids in schools. As the right reverend Prelate has just said, some of the children in there will already have had problems of potential criminality or being vulnerable.
I discovered at the Home Office that once you put children together in a residential place like that, they are not locked up at night; in the main, they are free to come and go, and then they are liable to be preyed on by every sort of predator in sight, for sexual abuse and drug use as well. If my noble friend the Minister is going to reject the amendments at this stage, I hope he and his officials will give them very careful consideration because they are an absolutely sensible, logical extension of the policy towards selling drugs outside schools to children. These children are even more vulnerable.
My Lords, I support both sets of amendments, on prisons and vulnerable children. It strikes me that these are quite clearly aggravating factors and we should do everything we can to prevent these drugs being introduced to prisons and to vulnerable children.
My Lords, Clause 6, I believe, replicates almost exactly the provision in the Misuse of Drugs Act. Without commenting on either of the areas of concern, although I quite understand the concern, my question to the Minister is: have the Government had any advice about extending the list of aggravating factors generally? Right at the start of Committee we raised the issue of a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. This is the sort of thing that could well come within the scope of a review.
The Minister will explain to the Committee in a moment the one word which would be different from Section 4A of the Misuse of Drugs Act and that is in his Amendment 43 to Clause 6(6). The MDA talks about delivering a controlled drug to a third person. Like the original drafter of this provision, I would have thought that referring to a psychoactive substance is logical and if we take out the word “psychoactive”—unless we are going to be told that that is what we have to read into it—it would seem to mean that if someone under 18 delivering anything to another person in connection with an offence falls within this. But I had better not further anticipate what we will be told about this.
My Lords, these are two very important areas—prisons and children—and I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kirkwood, for introducing these amendments.
I will put some remarks on the record but, given the views that have been expressed around the Chamber regarding children, I will undertake between Committee and Report, if the Children’s Society and noble Lords were interested and the right reverend Prelate was minded to join us, to arrange for us to meet the Children’s Society, with officials, and really examine this part of the Bill to see whether this is something that we need to look at in more detail. I will put some general remarks on the record but that is a commitment that I am happy to give in this important area.
I begin by acknowledging the problem that new psychoactive substances are causing in prisons, and take this opportunity to reassure noble Lords that a wide range of work is currently under way within the National Offender Management Service, including clear and unequivocal guidance to prison governors and staff about the dangers posed by these substances. There is a widespread prison media campaign, including the use of prison radio, to ensure that all prisoners are aware of the very serious risks associated with using new psychoactive substances. A National Offender Management Service steering group has recently been established to deliver actions on supply reduction; demand reduction; data and research; and messaging and communications.
There has also been a strong legislative response, with the Serious Crime Act creating a new offence of throwing or projecting an item over a prison perimeter. This new offence was designed in particular to tackle the supply into prisons of new psychoactive substances and will go some way to tackling the availability of these substances on the prison estate. Furthermore, the National Offender Management Service has worked and will continue to work closely with the Home Office on this Bill, which we expect to have a marked effect on tackling the supply and use of new psychoactive substances in prisons.
Amendments 40 and 44 seek to make the supply of a psychoactive substance on prison premises an additional aggravating factor when a court sentences an offender for an offence under Clause 5. Similarly, Amendments 41 and 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, seek to extend the circumstances where Clause 6 is to apply. In this instance, the supply of a psychoactive substance on or in the vicinity of accommodation where a looked-after child resides or to a person under the age of 18 would constitute an aggravating factor.
Clause 6 replicates an equivalent provision in Section 4A of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which seeks to provide additional protections to children from the dangers of controlled drugs. In its current form, this clause provides similar protections with regard to new psychoactive substances by creating an aggravated offence which would apply in two circumstances. The first is when someone supplies, or offers to supply, a psychoactive substance,
“in the vicinity of a school premises”,
one hour before or after they are used by a person under the age of 18. The second is when a person causes or permits a child or young person under 18,
“to deliver a psychoactive substance to a third person, or … to deliver a drug-related consideration”—
that is, some form of payment—to himself or herself, or to a third person.
It is right that the courts should look particularly seriously upon an offence under Clause 5 committed in these circumstances and take this into account when sentencing the offender. This is not to say that the court would not also take a dim view of other circumstances where a Clause 5 offence is being committed. The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kirkwood, are right to highlight other scenarios where a person convicted of the supply offence ought to be treated more severely compared with other cases.
That said, one challenge presented by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is that while an offender supplying drugs would be in no doubt that he or she was operating near a school, the same could not necessarily be said of a residential children’s home or other premises to which Amendment 42 would apply. Such premises may not be clearly identified as a children’s home and could look like any other house in a residential street. Where that is the case, it would arguably be unjust to impose a higher sentence in circumstances where the offender could have no knowledge that the aggravating factor was engaged.
The bad guys know where the children’s homes are, even though they may not be marked on the map or have a sign up. The people we are dealing with are clever drug dealers and if they wish to make drugs available to children in a children’s home, they will be able to do so. I suggest to my noble friend that the lack of knowledge of where the home is is not relevant.
Of course, and I remind my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern that, within the sentencing guidelines, there would be the ability for some of these factors to be spelled out. The awareness would be there and I am very sensitive to that. Having used the case of Canterbury, where one of these head shops was within 100 yards of the King’s School—just across the road from it—that is precisely the type of circumstance we are trying to get to. But in the normal way it would be open to the sentencing court, having regard to the relevant sentencing guidelines, to take any other aggravating factors into consideration. In updating its guidelines, the Sentencing Council in England and Wales may wish to reflect on the points raised in this debate. I might add that any prisoner who commits any offence under the Bill could be subject to additional punishments and restrictions through existing prison disciplinary procedures. For the purpose of the Bill we should be guided by the equivalent provision in the Misuse of Drugs Act, notwithstanding Amendment 108, which seeks to bring the 1971 Act into line with Amendment 42.
There is also one government amendment in this group. Amendment 43 is a technical amendment that seeks to correctly reference the second aggravating offence in Clause 6 with the corresponding offence in Clause 5. Clause 6 creates two aggravating conditions which a court must consider when passing sentence. It states:
“Condition A is that the offence was committed on or in the vicinity of school premises at a relevant time … Condition B is that … the offender used a courier who, at the time the offence was committed, was under the age of 18”.
Amendment 43 relates to condition B.
Clause 6(6)(a) provides that a person uses a courier if the person,
“causes or permits another person … to deliver a psychoactive substance”.
However, and rightly, a person can commit an offence of offering to supply a psychoactive substance in Clause 5(2) without there being any psychoactive substance in existence. The offence would be committed if an offer was made to supply a psychoactive substance but a non-psychoactive substance was in fact supplied. As we discussed in the previous group, it could be a packet of some benign white powder being passed off as a psychoactive substance. In such a case the requirement in Clause 6(6)(a) would not be met. Amendment 43 simply ensures that condition B operates as intended.
I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that the Government are actively tackling the issue of new psychoactive substances in prisons and that, on that basis, he will be content to withdraw his amendment. Within that, I extend to the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, the same offer which has been extended to other Members: to have that meeting with the Children’s Society to explore this area and, having heard its experiences, to consider whether further action is needed.
My Lords, if the correct way of dealing with subsection (6) is just to refer to the delivery of a substance, are the Government considering changing Section 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Act—I do not have the Act with me—to take out the reference to a controlled drug? I do not expect an answer at this point but I am not immediately persuaded that they should be different.
Before I respond on what I am doing with the amendment—I shall be withdrawing it; I do not want to appear to suggest that I am going to do something else—can the Minister say whether the Ministry of Justice is interested in seeing this become an aggravating feature in prisons?
As one would expect, the justice department will have been consulted and was part of the discussions in preparing the Bill. I note the reference that the noble Lord made to the remarks of the Justice Secretary in another place. I will certainly reflect on those and make contact with the Ministry of Justice again to ensure that its views are fully taken into account in the approach which I have outlined. Given that it has lead responsibility for prisons policy, I would expect those to be exactly as I have said.
Before the noble Lord says what he wants to do about his amendment, does not the fact that certain matters have been selected for aggravation make it somewhat more difficult for a judge to take a factor which is not made specific and give it the same weight? It slightly worries me that if you do not mention prisons and vulnerable children, while a section in the Bill does mention specific aggravations, that will tend to reduce the possibility of the two factors that we are interested in being regarded as aggravations. I assume that the judges’ reaction would be, “Parliament has not thought to mention these, and therefore it is not really quite so serious”. Whereas if Parliament has mentioned it—and prisons strikes me as an issue of particular importance—that is something we should emphasise for the judge who has to deal with this matter.
My Lords, I support the aggravated category for prisons and the particularly vulnerable children who are, in one way or another, in care. I am very grateful for what the Minister said about having a meeting on children in care. That is good and I am happy to accept it, but from my fairly regular visiting of prisons in my diocese—I have visited the four that were there but two of them are now closed—I know that the great majority of prisoners are themselves highly vulnerable and need to be treated as such. It seems that so many young men and young women find themselves in prison having started off with drugs in one way or another. They have been used and abused, often as vulnerable young people, and end up in prison still as relatively young people. They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation through drugs, so this really should be another aggravated category.
In response to those two points, I think I am right in saying that where we came from on this was to try to get consistency with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, where “children” is stated as an aggravating factor. We are therefore continuing that into the present. There will come a point where if you then add in certain types of locations and places, where do you stop? Will the courts then be unsure as to what the Government were trying to tackle in introducing the legislation? There is a duty on sentencing judges to follow sentencing guidelines, so the point can be dealt with through that route. We have certainly tightened up the laws with regard to drug use in prison through the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and the Serious Crime Act 2015. As I say, I certainly understand the comments that have been made and I will reflect particularly on the point about children between now and Report, with the assistance of that meeting.
I am always learning that the problem with legislation is when you mention one factor and have not necessarily mentioned another. I did not particularly mention it. The specific suggestion I made to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was that I would discuss the points which he raised with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. I will share the remarks he has made in Committee on this amendment with them. That was the offer I made in respect to his amendment. It was in respect to the others that I agreed to the meeting.
We would like to know where we stand before Report, because if we are drawing a blank, it is something we would certainly wish to consider pursuing on Report. We would not wish to do so if there was some movement on it. I noted the comments about bringing this into line with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. One might say that the Bill is not fully in line with the Misuse of Drugs Act, particularly over the offence of possession, for example. I am not sure that arguing that, on the one hand, you have to bring this in line with the Act but that on the other there is a clear distinction is the most consistent or best argument to use, quite frankly, on this issue.
I will of course read the Minister’s reply in full, since I appreciate he said quite a few things and I am not satisfied that I necessarily took them all on board. I will read Hansard carefully. I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. One thing I noticed was that, in his reply, the Minister made reference to action that can be taken against the prisoners involved with these drugs, but of course the issue is about the drugs getting into prisons, which can involve them coming in with parcels or visitors. I appreciate that once the drugs are in the prison they are being distributed by prisoners, which is where the bullying and harassment can come in, but there is also the issue of who is helping to get them into prisons in the first place and whether that should be an aggravating feature. I note that the Minister has said he will raise this with the Ministry of Justice. If he could indicate where we stood ahead of Report, that would be extremely helpful indeed. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendments 41 and 42 not moved.
43: Clause 6, page 3, line 32, leave out “psychoactive”
Amendment 43 agreed.
Amendment 44 not moved.
Clause 6, as amended, agreed.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: Importing or exporting a psychoactive substance
Amendments 45 and 46 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10: Power to provide for exceptions to offences
Amendments 47 to 49 not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Amendment 50 not moved.
51: Before Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Licences for sale of psychoactive substances
(1) The Secretary of State shall within one year after the passing of this Act make regulations for the licensing of—
(a) specified persons;(b) specified premises;to sell psychoactive substances determined to pose low overall risk and exempted under Schedule 1 by regulations made under section 3.(2) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) representatives of chief officers of police, local authorities and small businesses, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(3) Regulations under this section may—
(a) make different provision for different purposes, and(b) contain incidental, supplemental, consequential or transitional provision or savings.(4) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.
(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(6) In this section “specified” means specified in regulations.”
My Lords, Amendment 51 stands in my name and the names of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. It would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to license people and premises to sell low-risk psychoactive substances after consultation with representatives of the police, local authorities and small businesses.
The Government, in their background briefing to the Bill, acknowledge that some so-called head shops are well run and that the owners or managers of these premises make every effort to remain with the law and to conduct their business responsibly. We maintain that were all head shops to disappear, as happened when similar legislation was enacted in Ireland, users would resort to far more dangerous suppliers, such as street drug dealers and overseas websites. There is a real danger that the complete disappearance of head shops would result in more deaths from new psychoactive substances. Together with other amendments already debated, this amendment would allow low-risk psychoactive substances that have been exempted from the Bill to be sold to adults only, in closely regulated premises, by fit and proper licence holders.
We had a discussion this afternoon about how alcohol is very closely regulated. We are saying that, through this amendment, other low-risk psychoactive substances could be regulated and controlled. The overall effect of these changes would be to keep users from being driven into the hands of criminal suppliers and unregulated websites. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I think it is going to be very difficult in practice to implement the kind of regime that the noble Lord and his cosignatories call for, but I share his view that it may well be of much more questionable benefit than the Government suppose to close down the existing head shops en masse. I suspect that they vary very much in terms of the responsibility with which they deal with their clients but am pretty sure that, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, there are head-shop proprietors and staff who take a responsible view of the risks that their clients may run and the desirability of ensuring that they do not come to harm. It is very difficult to know how to prevent anyone coming to harm, not least because it is very difficult to identify the exact nature of the substances sold, even for the head-shop importers and proprietors, and there is not the evidence to tell us about the long-term effects of the use of new psychoactive substances.
However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that there is a lesser danger in this than there is in consigning the users of new psychoactive substances to street dealers and to online sources based outside this country operated by people who have no scruples at all. The consultation process that the noble Lord has proposed would be problematic, because people in the neighbourhood of head shops tend not to like them and it would be very difficult to get local public assent to the licensing of head shops, but a responsible local authority ought to undertake that kind of exercise.
I was very interested to note that, in the briefing from the Local Government Association on this amendment that I think we have all received, it makes some very practical points:
“We would oppose councils being made responsible for licensing because of the difficulties in assessing if a product is of low overall risk. Unless there was a full scale testing and risk assessment regime in place covering health and other risks the safety of a product could not be guaranteed”.
It is absolutely right about that, which is one of the reasons why, on another amendment, I have argued for the provision of a network of testing facilities. We ought to aim at that. We should encourage responsible conduct by people who would seek to supply psychoactive substances to the market in this country. There is evidence that many people operating cannabis cafes in the Netherlands for example, particularly because they are under pretty close police and other supervision, take good care to ensure that the products that they offer are relatively safe and that they guide purchasers to buy the products that may be least dangerous and least unsuitable for them. One might even say, for those who favour the taking of cannabis, it is positively suitable for them—but I am neutral on that point. We have all the time to think practically and realistically and, in tabling this amendment, noble Lords are doing just that.
I rise briefly in response to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, when he mentioned that the closure of the head shops in Ireland had resulted in the whole trade going underground. I am not sure whether my noble friend has had a chance to see it or research it, but my Google alert this morning said that some new report had been published by some doctors or professors in Ireland—maybe it was Dublin university, or something—that suggested that, quite the contrary, use of psychoactive substances overall had declined dramatically with the head shops ban and it had not gone underground, as people had feared. I have not had a chance to Google it and study it all but, if my noble friend is not aware of it, perhaps he and his assistants in his office can swot up on it. I am sure that it is a measure that will be addressed again at Report. We had a big debate last week on the situation in Ireland, so it would be worth while studying this academic research to see whether it is kosher.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the amendment would introduce a system of licensing to sell psychoactive substances determined to pose low overall risk, which is contrary to the objectives of the Bill as it currently stands, which is to provide for a ban on new psychoactive substances. My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport has already referred to the views of the Local Government Association and its lack of enthusiasm for this amendment, saying that it would oppose councils being made responsible for licensing because of the difficulties of assessing whether a product is a low overall risk. My noble friend Lord Howarth went on to refer to the further comments that the LGA made about the need for a very thorough regime to be in place if we were to go down the road that was being suggested in this amendment. The Government’s expert panel also said that it would be difficult to define low risk from a legislative and harms perspective and, even if it could be done, a mechanism for controlling new psychoactive substances would still be needed, which could lead to confusing messages about new psychoactive substances overall.
How does one decide whether a drug is safe? There are immediate risks that occur and also long-term risks that occur, including long-term psychological issues and dependency, so what does low harm mean in that context? The amendment refers to everything being set out in regulations, but I am not sure whether, under the terms of the amendment, a drug would be presumed safe until evidence came to the contrary or whether the producers of a drug would be expected to prove that the drug was safe. If so, how would you do that, how would you determine all the possible different types of harm, and would it have to involve human trials—because, without trials, how do you determine harm or otherwise?
The amendment refers in a sense to Clause 3, which provides that the,
“Secretary of State may by regulations amend Schedule 1 in order to … add or vary any description of substance”.
We had a discussion earlier today about the significance of the word “vary” but, in the light of the Minister’s response at Second Reading, I am still not clear why that provision in subsection (2)(a) is there, and why the Secretary of State may add a substance to the list. Listening to the Minister’s response at Second Reading, I got the impression that he was making it very clear on behalf of the Government that the Secretary of State would not be adding substances under the terms of Clause 3. Bearing in mind that the Government have put it here in the Bill, I would simply ask: in what circumstances do they envisage the Secretary of State adding to items in Schedule 1?
I shall take that last point first. From time to time, new and very dangerous chemical compounds come into the market in the UK, as we know from the whole experience of tackling new psychoactive substances. The provision is there to allow the possibility, in extreme circumstances, the likes of which we cannot envisage at this stage, on scientific advice and on advice from the police on a new substance coming into the UK and putting lives at risk, that we can act in a prompt way.
The regulation-making power in the Bill is inserted for a number of reasons—to ensure that any unintended consequences can be remedied, for example, having excluded substances mistakenly or because substances have been undesirably caught, such as flowers. It is also for substances that have a legitimate purpose, such as for industrial uses or for healthcare, and it would enable a description of a substance to be updated to reflect underlying changes to the regulatory regime in respect of that substance—for example, to reflect future revocation or replacement of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. I know that the noble Lord will probably not find that entirely satisfactory, but it is something that we feel is important to allow us—
The Minister will tell me if I am wrong, but I am very much getting the impression that the Government do not actually have any idea at the moment of the circumstance in which they might add an exempted substance to Schedule 1, but have put in the provision just in case something turns up that they cannot think of at the moment and that might lead them to want to do it.
Well, I have given a couple of examples of things that may have been included by mistake. We know from the European monitoring centre that there are hundreds of new substances and chemical compounds that have been identified in the course of each year. Over 500 substances have already been banned in the past five years alone. Therefore, because of that fast-moving change, we have an enabling power in the Bill to allow us to respond quickly and effectively should a threat or an oversight with an unintended consequence come to light. I would have thought that, in good legislative practice, the fact that the Government would seek to respond in that way would carry a great deal of support.
I am conscious of time, but also of the fact that we dealt with a number of these issues under Amendment 19, when we discussed risk. We had a very good and thoughtful debate on that issue, and it was clear from that why, when the expert panel looked at the New Zealand licensing example, it felt that there were weaknesses in it because of how low risk or low harm would be defined. Therefore, the panel chose not to recommend going down that line but instead chose to follow the example of the Republic of Ireland and a blanket ban.
I come to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who asked whether I had seen the new report produced by Trinity College Dublin, an eminent academic source, on the ban on head shops and how it was actually impacting. One of the authors of the study, Dr Bobby Smyth, claims that,
“the results of the survey show that the kind of drugs being sold in headshops are not being used to the same extent any more”.
That would seem to challenge one of the arguments that has frequently been put forward—that somehow the incidence of usage has increased. That is not what has been found. Dr Smyth also claims that those drugs have not been driven underground, as has been feared, stating that,
“the findings have shown that the implementation of legislation, targeted primarily at the vendors of NPS, did indeed coincide with a fall in NPS use among this high risk group of teenagers who attend a drug and alcohol treatment service … The study found that, among the two groups surveyed, not only did the problematic abuse of headshop drugs fall but that the use of cocaine and amphetamines also fell”.
Consumption of so-called legal highs fell sharply after the Government cracked down on head shops that sold them, according to new research. Researchers studied two groups of young people attending a drug and alcohol treatment centre in Dublin. The first group attended the service immediately before the legal changes designed to drive head shops out of business were introduced, and the second attended a year later, after the ban came into effect. The percentage of problematic users of head shop drugs fell from 34% in the first group to zero in the second. The percentage who had taken any such drugs in the previous three months fell dramatically from 82% pre-ban to 28% after the ban was introduced. The study was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. That clearly produces some evidence, which I know was sought by Members of the Committee earlier when they asked whether the ban was having any effect.
Was the expert panel’s recommendation to take a different approach from New Zealand a sensible way forward? I think it probably is. Just last week, the state of Western Australia passed a blanket ban as well. There is a gathering view that this is having some effect in tackling a very difficult problem, and that licensing, however well-meaning and thoughtfully presented the arguments for it may be, is not as effective in achieving the outcomes that we all want.
Whatever policies are introduced on head shops—whether a wholesale ban, a crackdown, some degree of tolerance, supervision or licensing—we will not end up with the state of affairs that might well be desired by all of us: that there should be no more importation and consumption of new psychoactive substances. The Minister spoke earlier about the difficulties of defining “low harm”. I agree with him that these definitions are very hard to pin down. However, I also put it to him that in this field we are looking for the least bad solution. There is no ideal solution. We are looking for a practical set of measures that will, as far as possible, protect young people and society from the perils of dangerous psychoactive substances. There is a strong case for doing more work to achieve a workable, practical definition of “a low degree of harm”, and the approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this amendment should not be discarded.
I respect the noble Lord in taking that position but it is a different position from that which the Government have arrived at after taking advice on this. The Local Government Association, which has to wrestle with these problems, has seen numerous examples over recent months of local authorities using a range of powers to shut down head shops in, for example, Lincoln, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Kent and Medway as a result of anti-social behaviour in and around these premises. I am not aware of any local authority or police force that welcomes head shops in its community.
Before I have letters flooding my way from the Australian high commissioner, I should point out that the government of Western Australia introduced legislation last month but it has not yet been passed. I hope that clarifies the position, and I hope that the noble Lord is reassured and feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister and other noble Lords for their contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, talked about having received the LGA briefing on this amendment. Regrettably, we have not received it, which puts us in a slightly difficult position in commenting on it. However, from what I have heard in the Chamber this afternoon, there seems to be some confusion over what the amendment is proposing. It proposes that local authorities license people and premises but the decision on which substances can be sold—that is, whether something is a low-risk substance—would be agreed by the Secretary of State, who would then put that substance on the exempt list. We have debated what “low-risk substance” means or could mean on a previous amendment. Our Amendment 22 offered a definition of “low overall risk” taken precisely from the Misuse of Drugs Act. What a low-risk substance is and how you define it is a separate debate.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for raising this new research. Again, it is difficult to comment without having read it, unlike the Minister. However, it sounds as though the surveys were conducted in a treatment centre for young people. The difficulty, as I have mentioned, is that when substances are made illegal people are very reluctant to come forward to seek treatment because those substances are now illegal, whereas previously they were legal and people had no qualms about coming forward.
Last week we offered the House the chance to have an independent, objective review, not only of the operation of the Misuse of Drugs Act but of what is happening in Ireland. It is very difficult for us in Committee to decide which side of the argument we come down on when there appears to be completely conflicting evidence of what the effects of the Irish ban are.
As to one thing I am more certain about, the Minister talked about the rejection of the New Zealand model. I understand that the problem with that model is that the suppliers of new psychoactive substances have not been prepared to put up the money to have their substances tested to the extent that they need to be to be approved. That is why the New Zealand model has run into the ground.
I accept that testing anything on animals is another very contentious issue. However, it is not right to say that the New Zealand model, whereby the door has been left open to allow people to have substances tested to see whether they are low risk, has been rejected, other than on commercial grounds by the people who are producing them.
Having said all that, I am very grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.30 pm.