Amendment 18 not moved.
19: Clause 6, page 3, line 42, at end insert—
“( ) Condition C is that the offence was committed on prison premises.”
Amendment 19 agreed.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Clause 8: Importing or exporting a psychoactive substance
21: Clause 8, page 5, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) It shall be a defence that the person imported the substance for his own consumption.”
My Lords, the amendment is in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and it reflects a debate that we had on a previous amendment. In Committee, we debated whether or not the importation of new psychoactive substances for someone’s own consumption should be an exemption and not be included in the Bill as an offence. For reasons similar to those given for the amendment on social supply, we now propose that it should be a defence. However, the burden would be on the accused person to show that they had imported the substance for their own consumption. This would get round many of the problems that the Minister raised in Committee on importation. Those concerns included how the Border Agency would know whether or not the substance was being imported for someone’s own use and how we differentiate between the two. This is about arresting people who are importing psychoactive substances but providing a defence if the person can prove that they were being imported for their own consumption. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The Government say that it should not be an offence to be in possession of a substance for your own use. If the consequences of the legislation are similar to those that have been seen in Ireland, the head shops and the UK-based websites will be closed down. We know that the police have been tasked to go after the street dealers zealously. What is most likely to happen is that people will turn to online suppliers based in other countries and will receive packages, at any rate for their personal use, through the mail.
The amendment seems, first, logical. If it is to be legal to possess then you must contemplate some means whereby people can come into possession. Secondly, it seems realistic in the sense that, in practical terms, it will be impossible to close down the online trade. I know that powers are to be taken in an amendment we shall debate later to deal more effectively with packages, but the volume of mail and internet-based business is so huge that it is unrealistic to suppose that more than a tiny fraction of packages containing psychoactive substances will be intercepted. On the grounds of both logic and practicality, this is a sensible amendment and I hope the Government will feel able to accept it.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56, which refers to Clause 56(2)(a). It is a probing amendment along similar lines to Amendment 21. As there are three different ways in which possession can become a criminal offence, the aim of the amendment is to clarify with Ministers the circumstances in which possession is not a criminal offence and those in which it is. I thank Mr Fortson QC for his briefing on this issue.
The Government have emphasised that the Bill does not make simple possession of a psychoactive substance a criminal offence, and I and many others certainly welcome that important step forward in the Bill. We know from the lengthy experience in Portugal, for example, that decriminalising possession there and investing more resources in treatment and less in prisons has resulted in fewer young people being addicted to drugs. That is surely one of our primary objectives. I find it enormously positive that the Government understand that issue and are taking it forward in the Bill.
As I said, there are three situations in which possession can become a criminal offence. If a person produces a psychoactive substance at home, for example by cooking something up in the kitchen, and they intend to consume it purely by themselves, they will have committed an offence. I want to make clear to your Lordships that I am not suggesting that anyone should cook up a psychoactive substance in their kitchen, albeit I have a number of friends who do just that—they create interesting and highly intoxicating alcoholic beverages in their kitchens. It is very easy to be rather hypocritical about these issues. Nevertheless, I wanted to make the point. It is not that I am promoting the idea of young people getting into the kitchen and creating these things. However, one has to think about the inconsistency.
If a young person is thinking about getting hold of a psychoactive substance and goes out to a dealer, buys a substance and goes home, they will not be committing a criminal offence if they are found with the substance in their hand. If they are found to have created, or are creating, the substance at home, they will be committing a criminal offence. It is possible to say that it could be very much safer for a young person to take a substance when they know its ingredients, rather than go to a crack dealer. I gather that that is what has happened in Ireland. As the head shops have closed, young people have gone to the crack dealers, who are doing a nice business with these psychoactive substances. One has to think of the incentive effect of these kinds of inconsistencies.
It is not only a criminal offence to create a substance in your kitchen. It is also a criminal offence, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, to import a substance for your own consumption. It is also a criminal offence if you export a substance for your own consumption—which might seem a slightly peculiar idea, but it is in the Bill. To illustrate the point, if someone has a psychoactive substance in their pocket, they are not committing an offence if they are at home. However, if they go on holiday with the substance tucked away in their pocket because they have forgotten it is there, and if it is still in their pocket when they come back, they will have committed two offences: importing and exporting a psychoactive substance. I know that that sounds a ludicrous example but one has to be conscious of the kinds of things that arise out of inconsistencies in legislation.
I understand from Mr Fortson QC—I would not have been aware of it otherwise—that this issue is of some importance. The offences to which I have referred are apparently described as lifestyle offences. Therefore, they trigger the most draconian provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Either the prosecutor or the court could initiate confiscation proceedings under POCA for one of these offences of possession of a psychoactive substance. That would seem, certainly to Mr Fortson QC, to be an entirely disproportionate response to what appears to be a rather insignificant offence. It was he who suggested that I should at least raise this matter in the House and seek the agreement of the Minister to ask her officials to look into these inconsistencies and to explore whether there is a way of finding a resolution that would feel somewhat more comfortable.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has indicated, Amendment 21 seeks to exclude from the importation offence in Clause 8, the importation of a psychoactive substance by a person for their own personal consumption. Amendment 56, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, aims to do something similar in that it seeks to exclude production for personal consumption from the scope of the offence in Clause 4.
The Government do not accept that there is an inherent contradiction between, on the one hand, making it an offence to import or produce a psychoactive substance for personal use and, on the other, not criminalising personal possession. The Bill is about tackling the trade in psychoactive substances, whatever form it may take, both domestically and internationally. The importation of psychoactive substances, particularly by post, is indisputably a key form of supply. To exclude importation for personal consumption, even assuming you could neatly carve such conduct out of the importation offence, has the potential to drive a coach and horses through the ban on importation. It would be an open invitation for individuals to import numerous small quantities, which they could then combine together for onward supply.
It is also important to mention that the proposal would impose a near impossible task on Border Force customs officials and National Crime Agency officers in policing the importation ban. It is obvious that it would be very difficult and time consuming for them to determine whether a particular consignment of psychoactive substances was for onward supply or for personal use. For example, a person could import a significant quantity of psychoactive substances at one time, claiming that it was a year’s worth of supplies for their personal use.
With a blanket ban, the Border Force will have a clear mandate to seize any substance likely to be consumed by any individual for its psychoactive effects, and where the importation is not for an exempted activity. This will enable it to stop these potentially dangerous substances entering the country. In fact, between 2014 and 2015, more than 3.5 tonnes of new psychoactive substances were seized by Border Force officers. This was a 75% increase on the previous year.
Once the Border Force has identified a consignment, it can then simply invoke its seizure powers and the substances will be subject to a forfeiture process. In appropriate circumstances, the National Crime Agency will wish to investigate further and seek prosecution of an individual for a Clause 8 offence.
I can assure noble Lords that, as for any offence, a prosecution for an offence under Clause 8 would be pursued only if the public interest test is met. This is clearly set out in the Crown Prosecution Service’s Code for Crown Prosecutors. The sort of questions that the prosecutor must ask him or herself when considering the public interest test include: “Is prosecution a proportionate response?”, “What is the impact on the community?”, and, “Was the suspect under the age of 18 at the time of the offence?”. I hope this reassures noble Lords that decisions to prosecute for any offence in the Bill will not be taken lightly and a number of factors will be considered.
Interestingly, the national policing lead has advised that the long-term focus of enforcement action will be on those sources of supply which caused the most harm to communities in terms of crime and disorder, or where they are connected with organised crime. Some of these considerations apply equally to Amendment 56, to the extent that it could open up a significant loophole which could be exploited. More to the point, I put it to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher: do we really want to encourage people to manufacture psychoactive substances in their garden shed, or, indeed, their bath? I suggest not. Production is clearly a critical link in the supply chain and we should not tolerate it on any level, whether it is on an industrial or cottage-industry scale.
The purpose of the Bill is to clamp down on the supply of NPS, not to criminalise young people. A range of civil sanctions is available to law enforcement agencies which offer an alternative route to criminal proceedings as a means of tackling the production and supply of psychoactive substances. The use of these sanctions will enable law enforcement officers to take action swiftly to nip a problem in the bud or to adopt a more proportionate approach to low-level offending. It will be a matter for the relevant law enforcement officer to determine the most appropriate course of action.
I hope that has reassured noble Lords—
I just wonder whether the noble Baroness is not sending a rather confusing signal to people. She is saying, on the one hand, that it must be illegal to import a substance; on the other, she is saying—and I am glad she is, in a way—that the public interest consideration will come into play when decisions about the prosecution are to be made. She is saying that it will be illegal to do it, but she is dropping the very broadest of hints that you are not going to get prosecuted for it. Is that not rather confusing for people?
I did not mean to be confusing. People certainly will be prosecuted for it, but as I said, the use of these sanctions will enable law enforcement officers to take action swiftly to nip a problem in the bud or to adopt a more proportionate approach to low-level offending. So it will be a matter for the relevant law enforcement officer to determine the most appropriate course of action.
While Border Force will seek to intercept, seize and forfeit any consignment of psychoactive substances coming into the UK, the focus of any criminal justice response will be on cases in which there is evidence of greatest harm. Similar considerations would apply to the enforcement of the production offence. Given this, I trust that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her response. Like the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I am slightly confused. Clearly, the Bill is aimed at tackling the trade, but whether you buy your psychoactive substance from a website abroad or from a drug dealer on the street, it would seem that the Bill is aimed at tackling one part of the trade but not the other—unless I am confused about that, as I see the Minister and the expressions on people’s faces.
Of course Border Force needs to intercept these packages, which is why we are saying that this should be a defence rather than an exemption or not be an offence in itself. Clearly, if somebody is importing a large quantity and saying that it is a year’s supply, they would have great difficulty in convincing the courts that that defence was available to them.
There are two reasons for raising this issue. First, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs raised it. In point 5 of its letter, it states:
“The Bill has the potential to both criminalise and apply disproportionate penalties to many otherwise law abiding young people and adults”,
and it specifically mentions importation. Secondly, we wanted to get on the record, which we have achieved, the fact that the public interest test will be applied and that, hopefully, not many young people will end up with a criminal record as a consequence of these measures. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Clause 10: Power to provide for exceptions to offences
22: Clause 10, page 5, line 33, leave out “such” and insert “—
(a) the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and(b) such other”
Amendment 22 agreed.
Amendments 23 and 24 not moved.
25: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Control of cannabis
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs pursuant to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 with regard to the use of her powers to make regulations under sections 7, 10, 22 and 31 of that Act—
(a) to delete from Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 the substances listed in subsection (2), and(b) to add those substances to Schedule 2 to the 2001 Regulations.(2) The substances referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) cannabis, and(b) cannabis resin.”
My Lords, this takes us back to the control of cannabis for medicinal use. In Committee, there was some interest in, and I would say some sympathy for, the proposal that medicinal use should be permitted through some means or other. I am using those terms extremely loosely but there was certainly recognition of the difficulties and publicly expressed concerns. Very appropriately, concern was also expressed in the Chamber about the need for controlled trials, and a recognition of the difficulties around trials and of the paradox that medicinal herbal cannabis is widely available elsewhere in Europe, either produced in certain countries or imported from them, and in the United States, and that those medicines are much less expensive than Sativex, which is the medicine available—that is quite a wide definition—in this country on limited prescriptions.
I do not want to repeat that debate but I am mindful of the list of conditions we are aware of, and the severity of many of those conditions, which cannabis seems to alleviate—not for everyone, perhaps, but for an awful lot of people, and with very dramatic effects—so I did not feel that I could let the matter rest there. I was also aware that the Labour Front Bench did not feel able to support the amendment at that stage, possibly because of its defective form. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser—as I heard him and as I read in Hansard—was non-committal on the principle of the issue on that occasion. I hope that this evening the Opposition will be able to take the opportunity to indicate their position.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out that there was already a procedure which would allow for cannabis to be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 by regulations made under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The amendment places the proposals squarely within the existing provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow for that change in the regulations to place cannabis among those drugs which may be illegal for recreational use but can be available via prescription. I am proposing the very much more tentative step—a preliminary step, perhaps; I hope so, at any rate—of consultation with the ACMD under the 1971 Act with regard to the use of the Secretary of State’s powers under the regulations to achieve the alteration that I am speaking of with regard to both cannabis and cannabis resin. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope indeed that, as the amendment proposes, the Government will consult in the relatively near future with the ACMD about the desirability of rescheduling cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 to facilitate the use of cannabis-based medications. I draw great encouragement from the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has added her name to the amendment. She is an extremely distinguished psychologist and a very senior figure in the BMA. If Ministers are less than impressed by any contribution on scientific or medical subjects that I may be able to make, they should be fully aware that the noble Baroness is in support of the amendment.
Perhaps I may refer again to the pamphlet published under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, Regulating Cannabis for Medical Use in the UK, authored by Professor Val Curran and Mr Frank Warburton. I remind the House that at the outset of that document, the authors state:
“Based on a review of the research literature, the most established uses of medicinal herbal cannabis in places where it is most widely available such as in the Netherlands include: The relief of pain and muscle spasms or cramps associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord damage; chronic neuropathic pain (mainly pain associated with the nervous system, e.g. caused by a damaged nerve, phantom pain, facial neuralgia or chronic pain which remains after the recovery from shingles); nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss and debilitation due to cancer or AIDS; nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy used in the treatment of cancer, hepatitis C or HIV infection and AIDS; Gilles de la Tourette syndrome; therapy-resistant glaucoma”.
That is a significant list of conditions and diseases which good scientific evidence indicates are alleviated by cannabis-based medication. Yet we have a state of affairs in this country, in contrast to others, in which such alleviation and medical benefit is hardly available to people. That contrasts strongly with the countries which regulate the medical use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives, including Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain, Uruguay and some 20 or more states within the United States of America. These are all mature societies which have thought deeply about the practicalities of drug control. They have come to a variety of policy conclusions but none of them has taken the decision flippantly or negligently to ensure that medical cannabis can be available in appropriate circumstances for patients who would benefit from it.
The current situation in the UK is that there are numerous people for whom cannabis would incomparably alleviate chronic pain, for example, but who simply cannot get hold of it. That is because of the rigidity of the regulations, the lottery of prescribing—a small number of doctors are willing to prescribe but very many are not—the cost of research and the consequential additional cost of production, and the inflexibility of the licensing system. This case is thoroughly made out in the document from which I have quoted. It surely must be time that the British authorities thought again about this and made moves at least to reconsider, open-mindedly and in a practical and constructive fashion, whether we should at long last reschedule cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2.
My Lords, we debated this issue at length in Committee and I will therefore speak only very briefly. I support very strongly the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
The Minister is aware that cannabis medication has proved a literal life-saver for children with Dravet syndrome, an extreme form of childhood epilepsy. If cannabis could be available as soon as Dravet syndrome was diagnosed, very severe brain damage caused by literally hundreds of fits every day could be avoided. The appalling side-effects of benzodiazepines for tiny children could also be done away with. On the basis of that single syndrome, the value of medicinal cannabis for these tiny children seems sufficient to make the case for cannabis to be shifted from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2.
As we know, Schedule 1 has in it only those drugs that are deemed to have no medicinal value at all. One simply cannot say that any longer of medicinal cannabis. The evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis for a range of other severe, long-term illnesses is now also irrefutable. That is a strong word when research is so difficult to undertake and the research studies have therefore been relatively small, but the evidence from countries across the world is now so strong, even on the basis of these small studies, that I do not think we should be questioning it.
We know that for many diagnoses, including multiple sclerosis, different medications suit different patients. I was struck by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, maintaining that he does not need medicinal cannabis. Maybe certain people have not tried medicinal cannabis and might benefit greatly from it, but the reality is that different drugs suit different people. We know that there are 30,000 people in this country who are in great pain and go to great lengths to go abroad to get hold of medicinal cannabis, which they say makes all the difference to their quality of life.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred to the report for the all-party parliamentary group by a research officer, Frank Warburton, and Professor Val Curran. I will not repeat the excerpts that the noble Lord quoted from that report, but it sets out very powerfully not only the number of illnesses that can be treated with the drug but the number of countries that are now using it.
A senior Australian politician came to see me yesterday. He has tabled a Bill to legalise medicinal cannabis in Australia which is expected to become law in the autumn. The Bill apparently has a lot of support in Australia and one of the reasons for that is Dravet syndrome. When I mentioned the case that I shared with the Minister, he said, “Oh yes, we have a number of those cases in Australia”. They have made a very big impact. I am very happy to make the Australian Bill, which I am assured will be sent to me, available to the Minister. That could cut a few corners and enable us to make some progress on this incredibly important matter sooner rather than later.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. I refer to my interests in the register but make it clear that I am speaking in a personal capacity. As a doctor, I think this amendment provides quite an elegant solution to the clear need to make cannabis available for medicinal purposes. That is the point of it. Such a law could address a need that has clearly been there for quite some time and could be used to find a solution to a problem that has found a solution in other countries. I strongly support that. It could facilitate access to cannabis for so many people with long-term conditions such as multiple sclerosis, many of whom might benefit from such provision. I am pleased to support it.
My Lords, as many noble Lords have pointed out, we had a wide debate on this issue in Committee. We were unconvinced by the argument at that time. We are unconvinced that an amendment to this Bill is an appropriate vehicle but, as ever, we await the government response with interest.
First, I thank the noble Baroness for moving this amendment and giving us the opportunity to return to this issue. I feel we will be returning to it often, as we have considered it often in the past. During the dinner break, I reread the Committee debate and used the time to look at the video that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, pointed me to when we met yesterday. It is a very moving story featuring testimony from a young boy in the United States with epilepsy who was taking medicinal cannabis to very helpful effect. No parent or grandparent would ever want to decry such examples, but of course they are individual stories or cases, and the duty in considering this is to look at the totality of the evidence. That is the duty of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which we have talked about a great deal, and of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which needs to license and approve products for sale and use in the UK.
This amendment brings us back to some familiar territory. In responding to this amendment, I remind noble Lords that cannabis is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and listed in Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The 1971 Act will continue to regulate the availability of controlled drugs, and Schedule 1 to this Bill specifically excludes drugs controlled under the 1971 Act. The Government are already under a statutory duty under provisions set out in the 1971 Act to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs prior to implementing any changes to the classification of controlled drugs. Provisions in the 1971 Act also enable the advisory council, acting on its own initiative, to keep under review the situation with respect to controlled or dangerous drugs in the UK and to provide advice to the Government. To place a further statutory requirement on the Home Secretary to consult the advisory council in respect of the rescheduling of cannabis, as proposed in this amendment, will in the Government’s view amount to an unnecessary duplication. Moreover, by setting an arbitrary timetable, it would entail an unjustified diversion of the advisory council’s resources from more pressing tasks, particularly as the issue has relatively recently been examined by the council. Indeed, the advisory council has reviewed the evidence on the misuse and harms of cannabis twice in recent years. Its most recent report, published in 2008, confirmed its previous view that,
“the use of cannabis is a significant public health issue. Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society”.
As I highlighted in Committee, no compelling body of evidence has since been put forward to the Government to challenge the advisory council’s view or the Government’s position on cannabis. However, we have listened to the experiences of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins and Lady Meacher, and continue to listen very carefully to that evidence, as I am sure that the advisory council continues to do as well. Of course, we continue to monitor the evidence, but it is the Government’s view that the available evidence does not warrant a specific commission of the advisory council at this time. This position does not prevent the advisory council from reviewing the available evidence and providing further advice to Government on its own volition, if it considers that there is enough scientific evidence to warrant the legislative change proposed in the amendment.
In Committee, concerns were raised around the impact of the legislative framework on cannabis research, which was also raised in the meeting that I had with officials, along with my noble friend Lady Chisholm, on the issue of medical research. We were talking particularly about the difficulties involved in research. I said at that point, and I hold by it, that we remain very much open to receiving further evidence of the difficulties that might be there in conducting medical research. Certainly, if Professor Curran or other groups want to provide evidence—we have received a report prepared by the all-party parliamentary group—that will be considered very carefully. The Government attach the highest priority to bona fide scientific research, especially that which will lead to improvements to the future health and well-being of the people of this country. They are committed to removing unnecessary regulatory barriers that impede research.
The Government’s view is that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the regulations made under the Act already facilitate research in this area. It is therefore not necessary to move cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 prior to its use in research or medicinal trials. Schedule 1 drugs are already used in research or medicinal trials. Where wider human trials are necessary, the Home Office can issue a general licence under the 1971 Act to enable prescribers to prescribe on a named-patient basis, pharmacists to dispense and patients to possess, as happened during the development of the cannabis-based medicine Sativex, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred.
The Home Office licensing regime is aimed at enabling access to drugs under a framework that prevents diversion and misuse. The regime is not intended to create unnecessary barriers to research, nor do we believe that that is how it operates in practice. Where there is clear evidence that such barriers exist and that removing them will not increase the risk of diversion to the illicit market, we are open to reviewing them.
Indeed, the formalities for obtaining a Schedule 1 licence and the requirements that would normally apply to prevent diversion and misuse, such as safe custody, are in fact similar to those applicable to Schedule 2 drugs and most Schedule 3 drugs. A decision to grant a Schedule 1 licence will be based on an assessment of risk, which is specific to each individual application. This principle is no different from drugs in the other schedules under the 2001 regulations. It is also worth noting that controlled drug licences are not drug-specific and a Schedule 1 research licence enables an organisation to undertake research with all drugs listed in that schedule, subject to any ethical approvals where human trials are proposed.
The Minister will know from reading the report that some of the very significant practical difficulties for research arising from the fact that cannabis is in Schedule 1 are described in that report. He will also be aware that whereas cannabis is in Schedule 1 and is that much more tightly controlled, heroin is in Schedule 2 and is also very tightly controlled. The Minister said he had looked at the totality of the evidence. Does he have any evidence of leakage of heroin from hospitals, which are allowed to hold it because it is a Schedule 2 drug, into the illicit market? It is no more likely that cannabis would leak from its proper medical research uses into the illicit market than that heroin would. Heroin does not, I believe, so why would cannabis?
That is an interesting point which will, of course, be considered by those committees which advise the Government on these important issues. I would imagine that that factor has been considered, and if it has not, I am sure that the noble Lord will ensure that in future it should be considered in making decisions on this issue.
Home Office records confirm that no university that has applied for a Schedule 1 licence has so far been refused one, and we have not seen any evidence that licensees have been unable to comply with the Schedule 1 licence requirements. About 70 Schedule 1 licences are currently held by universities and hospitals enabling them to undertake research with all substances in Schedule 1 under the terms of that licence, as opposed to being limited to a single drug.
Where that research involves live human subjects, there are other, non-Home Office requirements, such as ethics approval, and I think there is some anecdotal evidence that the ethical demands, processes and commitments that must be gone through are more onerous than the licensing ones and may in practice present greater challenges to researchers than the requirements of the 1971 Act.
I have no doubt the debate on the legal status of cannabis, including its scheduling, is one we will return to from time to time as the evidence develops. For now, I hope I have been able to present some evidence to the noble Baroness that while we carefully considered her proposal, we do not regard it as necessary and do not see the case for there being a change in the Government’s position at this time.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins; I had not realised that she had added her name. I am very grateful for her support, as I am to other noble Lords who have supported this amendment. I note that the Labour Party is unconvinced that this is the appropriate vehicle, and I am still unclear whether it is convinced of the need to deal with the issue and therefore perhaps to find another vehicle. I saw the video as well—I picked it up online—but I am mindful of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, at the previous stage about individual cases and the need for clinical trials.
I shall pick up three points. I am told that there is no evidence of diversionary misuse in other countries where cannabis is available for medicinal use. We will not get the scientific evidence without taking account of the issues raised, including changes in other countries, embarking on trials and addressing the ethical issues. As to there being no compelling body of evidence, I refer to almost the noble Lord’s last point: the passage of time and the accumulation of demand in themselves are proving compelling. Still, we are where we are—or rather, where we are not—today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
Clause 11: Meaning of “prohibited activity”
26: Clause 11, page 6, line 10, leave out “an” and insert “a prohibited”
My Lords, I wonder if it would be helpful to the House if I were to move the rest of this large group of largely minor and technical government amendments, Amendments 27 to 50, formally. I flagged up these amendments in Committee and have written explaining the basis of them. There is one significant change in Amendment 50, which provides a new clause to ensure that Border Force officers can access relevant provisions in the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 when they intercept psychoactive substances being imported into or exported from the UK, particularly by post. Unless noble Lords want clarification—
Amendment 26 agreed.
27: Clause 11, page 6, line 12, after “in” insert “any of paragraphs (a) to (e) of”
Amendment 27 agreed.
Clause 15: Means of giving notices under sections 12 to 14
Amendments 28 to 31
28: Clause 15, page 7, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) A notice takes effect when it is given.”
29: Clause 15, page 8, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) A notice sent to a person by electronic means is, unless the contrary is proved, to be treated as having been given at 9 am on the working day immediately following the day on which it was sent.”
30: Clause 15, page 8, line 28, leave out “subsection (8)” and insert “this section—”
31: Clause 15, page 8, line 30, at end insert—
““working day” means a day other than a Saturday, a Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday or a bank holiday under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 in any part of the United Kingdom.”
Amendments 28 to 31 agreed.
Clause 27: Variation and discharge on application
Amendments 32 to 36
32: Clause 27, page 16, line 11, at end insert “or the chief constable of the British Transport Police Force”
33: Clause 27, page 16, line 12, leave out from “Scotland,” to end of line 13 and insert “the Lord Advocate or a procurator fiscal;”
34: Clause 27, page 16, line 16, leave out paragraph (d)
35: Clause 27, page 16, line 18, at beginning insert “in the case of an order made in England and Wales or Northern Ireland,”
36: Clause 27, page 16, line 19, at beginning insert “in the case of an order made in England and Wales or Northern Ireland,”
Amendments 32 to 36 agreed.
Clause 29: Appeals against making of prohibition orders and premises orders
Amendments 37 to 39
37: Clause 29, page 18, line 2, leave out from “18” to “may” in line 3
38: Clause 29, page 18, line 5, at end insert “(to the extent it would not otherwise be so appealable).”
39: Clause 29, page 18, leave out lines 6 and 7
Amendments 37 to 39 agreed.
Clause 30: Appeals about variation and discharge
Amendments 40 to 45
40: Clause 30, page 18, line 18, column 2, at beginning insert “High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal, in a case where the relevant order was made under section 18 and the person against whom it was made had been convicted in proceedings on indictment”
41: Clause 30, page 18, line 18, column 2, at end insert “, in any other case”
42: Clause 30, page 18, line 30, leave out “subsection (2)” and insert “subsections (1) and (2)”
43: Clause 30, page 19, line 6, leave out from “28” to “as” in line 7
44: Clause 30, page 19, line 8, at end insert “(to the extent it would not otherwise be so appealable).”
45: Clause 30, page 19, leave out lines 9 and 10
Amendments 40 to 45 agreed.
Clause 49: Power of police, etc to dispose of seized psychoactive substances
46: Clause 49, page 28, line 34, leave out “is a psychoactive substance but” and insert “—
(i) is a psychoactive substance which, if it had not been seized, was likely to be consumed by an individual for its psychoactive effects, but(ii) ”
Amendment 46 agreed.
Clause 50: Forfeiture of seized items by court on application
Amendments 47 and 48
47: Clause 50, page 29, line 21, after “substance” insert “which, if it had not been seized, was likely to be consumed by an individual for its psychoactive effects”
48: Clause 50, page 30, line 3, after “that” insert “—
(i) if the item had not been seized, it was not likely to be consumed by any individual for its psychoactive effects, or(ii) ”
Amendments 47 and 48 agreed.
Clause 51: Appeal against decision under section 50
49: Clause 51, page 31, line 2, leave out “30” and insert “28”
Amendment 49 agreed.
50: Before Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of Customs and Excise Management Act 1979
(1) Section 164 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (power to search persons) applies in relation to a psychoactive substance as it applies in relation to an article with respect to the importation or exportation of which any prohibition or restriction is for the time being in force under or by virtue of any enactment.
(2) A psychoactive substance is liable to forfeiture under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 if—
(a) the psychoactive substance— (i) is imported or exported, or(ii) is entered for exportation or brought to any place in the United Kingdom for exportation,(b) the psychoactive substance is likely to be consumed by any individual for its psychoactive effects, and(c) the importation or (as the case may be) exportation of the psychoactive substance is not an exempted activity. (3) For the purposes of subsection (2) the importation or exportation of a psychoactive substance is an “exempted activity” if it would not be an offence under this Act by virtue of regulations under section 10.
(4) Section 5 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (time of importation, exportation, etc) applies for the purposes of subsection (2) as it applies for the purposes of that Act.”
Amendment 50 agreed.
51: Before Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Secretary of State’s duty to increase public awareness of new psychoactive substances
(1) The Secretary of State must establish a scheme to promote public awareness of new psychoactive substances, including the dangers these substances may pose.
(2) The duty referred to in subsection (1) includes, but is not limited to, the requirement to introduce measures to—
(a) increase public awareness of new psychoactive substances; and(b) assist schools in educating pupils about the dangers associated with new psychoactive substances.(3) The Secretary of State must publish, and lay before each House of Parliament, a report on the actions undertaken in pursuance of this section, within six months of sections 4 and 5 of this Act coming into effect, and annually thereafter.
(4) The report shall include, but need not be limited to—
(a) measures that have been taken to increase public awareness, including the cost of such measures;(b) measures that have been taken to assist schools in educating their pupils;(c) a subsequent review of the effectiveness of the measures taken; and(d) any further measures that the Secretary of State plans to undertake in the future.”
In Committee, we discussed an amendment providing for the Secretary of State to establish a scheme to promote public awareness of new psychoactive substances, including the dangers that these substances may pose, and to provide an annual report to Parliament. Amendment 51, which I am moving, is in a similar vein. In his response in Committee, the Minister referred to a meeting that was to take place with Public Health England and the Department for Education earlier this month. He said:
“The Bill is primarily a law enforcement measure, setting out definitions et cetera, although it is part of a wider context that includes education. As to whether we should have references to education or treatment programmes in the Bill, I personally favour things that are very clear and focused about what they want to do. What we hope to achieve through education is a very important part of the context. I undertake to reflect on that between now and Report”.—[Official Report, 23/6/15; col. 1570.]
Since the discussion in Committee, we have had the letter of 2 July to the Home Secretary from the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which set out the ACMD’s views on the Bill. That letter says:
“The ACMD would like to help the Government in refining the Bill by making recommendations”.
It goes on:
“The ACMD is willing to suggest detailed amendments … helping develop an implementation strategy including information, education, treatment and harm reduction services which may be required for users of Novel Psychoactive Substances”.
The ACMD then includes in its recommendations that the Government should,
“ensure adequate resources are in place to support education, prevention, acute health interventions, treatment and harm reduction services to prevent and to gather evidence of Novel Psychoactive Substance-related harms”.
Therefore, the ACMD was talking with regard to amendments to the Bill on information, education and treatment, and clearly had some doubts about whether adequate resources were available. In her reply, the Home Secretary made no response to the ACMD offer to “suggest detailed amendments”, including on the issues of education, treatment and harm reduction. Perhaps the Minister could fill in that gap when he responds.
On the ACMD recommendation in respect to the provision of adequate resources, the Home Secretary referred to,
“a comprehensive action plan on psychoactive substances to further enhance”,
“response to prevention, treatment and information sharing”,
and to refreshing the Government’s,
“over-arching approach to reducing the demand for drugs … enabling … a broad approach to prevention”,
to be taken.
I believe the Home Secretary may also have received a letter from a number of organisations involved in this field which expressed concern about the educational and preventive response from the Government about the risks to young people from new psychoactive substances. The organisations said that the current approach to preventing young people coming to harm from NPS is insufficient to meet the scale of the problem and have asked the Government to consider the proposals recommended by the Welsh Government’s Health and Social Care Committee. That committee, of course, recommended a targeted public awareness campaign for young people, as well as one specifically for parents, an evaluation of current education programmes, investment more generally in drugs education in schools, and NPS training for front-line staff. In addition, we have already had the report of the Government’s expert panel, which also included recommendations on education and awareness.
I am not sure what the difficulty was with the amendment in Committee, and I hope that the outcome of the Minister’s reflection since Committee, which he said he would undertake, will prove to have been positive. After all, he said in his recent undated letter to my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport:
“I feel strongly that prevention is at the core of how we tackle the misuse of drugs and keep our young people safe from drug related harms”.
What we do not want is government—any Government —maintaining that it has comprehensive action plans and is refreshing overarching approaches to address the issues arising from the use of new psychoactive substances, as the Home Secretary has done in her reply to the ACMD, when there is no requirement on government to then report to Parliament regularly on what those measures are that have been introduced and implemented and how successful or otherwise they have been in resolving the problems they were designed to address.
I have already referred to the Minister’s comment in Committee:
“What we hope to achieve through education is a very important part of the context”.—[Official Report, 23/6/15; col. 1570.]
That is fine. But what, in detail, do the Government hope to achieve through education, and how and when will they update us on the progress they are or are not making towards whatever it is they have decided they are seeking to achieve through education? Can the Minister give some specific answers to those specific questions I have just posed, or, alternatively, accept this amendment, which provides the framework through which the Government could report regularly to Parliament on their objectives with regard to the use of and public awareness about NPS, and the extent to which the measures they have taken have been effective?
One thing appears clear and that is that any education, treatment and prevention programmes in respect of new psychoactive substances to date have been less than fully effective. If they had been, presumably we would not have felt the need for this Bill. Legislation, law enforcement and criminal sanctions are important but so, too, are education, training and prevention programmes and measures if we are to address fully the use and supply of psychoactive substances. A Bill that deals with only the former aspect and makes no reference to the latter, and which lays no duty on the Secretary of State to report on the measures taken and their effectiveness, is surely incomplete and does not recognise the equal importance of education, information and prevention.
I simply conclude with one further point and question. In his recent—again, undated—letter to me setting out the Government’s amendments for Report, the Minister referred to the fact that the Government already report annually on their drug strategy. If the Minister can confirm that that is a report to Parliament and that it will in future contain information on the matters in respect of new psychoactive substances referred to in my amendment, it may be that my amendment is no longer needed. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment which has just been moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser ranges more widely, and very valuably, by comparison to my more limited Amendment 53 in this group, which is confined to the question of education and would require the Secretary of State to,
“require that all secondary schools report annually on their drug education programmes”,
and requires that Ofsted and the equivalent agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,
“when reporting on the performance of secondary schools, include an assessment of the extent and quality of drug education provided by the school”.
It goes on to require that:
“The Secretary of State shall request that each further and higher education institution publish annually a report on its programme to reduce harms caused by the use of drugs by its students”.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, with characteristic helpfulness, organised a meeting on the theme of education and prevention which a number of us were able to attend. We met people from Public Health England, and also present was an official from the Department for Education. It was a very interesting and very useful meeting, and I am most grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, for making that possible. I was particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness, energy, commitment and good sense of the representatives from Public Health England. I was also very encouraged by the work that they have in train, which they described. They have been somewhat limited by their lack of resources. Our meeting was on the eve of the Budget. I expressed the hope—in semi-jocular fashion—at the end of the meeting that the next day would see their budget quadrupled. They smiled a little wryly. In fact, the next day the Chancellor announced a £200 million cut to the public health grant to local authorities. That must be highly problematic for other departments—the Home Office, the Department of Health and, I dare say, the Department for Education.
The Home Office’s annual review sketches out—as is its fashion; it does not deal with anything other than sketchily—some of the educational approaches that are being undertaken. It talks about the Rise Above project; it talks about the government-sponsored website Talk to FRANK; it talks about communications campaigns that have been undertaken in 2013 and 2014; and it refers to the New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Resource Pack for Informal Educators and Practitioners, which I have read and which I admire very much. It is full of good sense and gets the tone exactly right. So, to that extent, there is some modest encouragement.
The annual review also talks about the Government’s:
“Promotion of good practice in demand reduction in NPS at EU and international level, led by the UK”.
I found that assertion to be a trifle unconvincing. If we consider the work that has preceded it in Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, it is difficult to see that the United Kingdom Government are in the lead in this process of developing preventive and educational strategies.
However, it is good that the ADEPIS programme—the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service—is being run by Mentor UK, which, the House will remember, was particularly critical of the Government’s educational efforts in its evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in the report published in 2012. The ADEPIS programme was launched in 2013, and we are told in the Home Office’s annual review that it will,
“continue to be funded for another year to ensure their resources are fully embedded in local practice”.
That further year is 2015-16. Does the Minister want us to believe that the job will then have been done and that we can seriously hope that the good practices recommended by Mentor and promulgated through the ADEPIS programme will be fully embedded in local practice as a result of one more year’s funding? I do not think that it will.
There is extensive evidence which has been discussed by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and presented to the department, and which has also been discussed in other documents, that the present provision for drugs education in the national curriculum is not only minimal but, in practical terms, useless—useless in terms at least of strengthening resilience and helping young people develop the capacity and the will to resist the blandishments of the drug culture. It has been a matter of great controversy in this House that personal, social and health education has not been made a statutory subject in the curriculum. We know from other evidence from at least a year or two back that drug education was provided in many schools once a year or less. I have very little reason to think that Ofsted has this among its most seriously held concerns. The ACMD has said that provision within the curriculum simply does not work. The report of the expert panel, which lies behind the presentation to the House of this legislation, talks in chapter 5 about the need for drug education to take its place within a whole array of preventive strategies. By simply leaving it to occasional moments in the school day or year, one does not get anything useful done.
I have therefore tabled my amendment and am speaking now because I want to make a serious plea, through the good offices of the Minister, to the Department for Education to pull its weight in this regard. I simply do not see that it has taken the responsibilities that it ought to accept in terms of drug education with the seriousness that is required. On the other hand, I have hopes of the new Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, because she has had much to say about the importance of schools developing character. She is right about that. What I look for from her is a speech, using all the authority of the office she holds, in which she urges schools across the length and breadth of the land—all schools, whether they are free schools, academies or state schools of one kind or another—to commit themselves with true seriousness to a sustained drive in this direction, and for the Secretary of State to maintain that drive.
That has to be continued through the later stages of education, in further education and higher education, as my amendment proposes. I hope that the Secretary of State for Business, who has lead responsibility for higher education, will have conversations with Universities UK and the vice-chancellors to impress upon them that we expect a seamless continuity of serious, intelligent and strategic education throughout the education system to support children and young people to develop the resilience and capacity for independent, critical decision that they need. I will quote from the resource pack:
“A common goal in working with young people at risk from the choices they may make is to build their emotional resilience and to provide them with the skills and confidence they need to reject pressures they face”.
I very much hope that we will see the Home Office supported by the Education Department and a coherent strategy across the whole of government to turn this into a worthwhile reality.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have added our names to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I want to add two things to the debate. First, I point out again that this is covered not just in the letter from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs but in one of its recommendations, which asks that the Government,
“ensure adequate resources are in place to support education, prevention, acute health interventions, treatment and harm reduction services”.
Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, that indicates that the ACMD’s assessment is that those resources are not sufficient at this time. I do not feel that the Secretary of State’s response—simply outlining what the Government are doing at the moment—addresses the point that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs makes. The reason the ACMD speaks in those terms is that the budget available for law enforcement around drugs and the budget for education around drugs are completely out of kilter. This Bill will incur more costs on the law enforcement front without adding any additional resources for education and prevention.
I ask the Minister to reassure us that adequate resources will be addressed to education and prevention and agree that if we are to hold the Government to account for any promises they make, we need to hear exactly what the Government are doing and what the impact of those efforts is, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has already said.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for moving this amendment and for the debate that we have had. Education is a critical element of this. It is right that we focus on education programmes, and I will come to those in a minute.
Probably the worst impact on a child’s education is what happens in places such as Canterbury, where there is a head shop across the road from a school. Young people can wander past that shop and obtain new psychoactive substances without any production of proof of age. Those substances are easily available and accessible. I cannot think of a worse signal to send to young people about what the Government’s position is. They may have had the most wonderful, textbook PSHE lesson from an inspiring teacher but, if that is their experience when they walk out the door, it is significantly undermined. Therefore, we need to keep this in context, and I will respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Although education clearly needs to be robust and measured in its effectiveness, the overall purpose of the action being taken—with support from the Official Opposition—will have a far greater effect, particularly in relation to NPSs.
Prevention and education is a key strand of our balanced drug strategy, and it is vital that we prevent people, especially young people, using drugs in the first place and intervene early with those who start to develop problems. We have recently refreshed our approach to reducing the demand for drugs, enabling us to take a broad approach to prevention. The approach combines universal action with targeted action for those most at risk or already misusing drugs. It includes investing in a range of evidence-based programmes which have a positive impact on young people, giving them the confidence, resilience and risk-management skills to resist drug use. This refreshed approach is very much in line with the goal of building character, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Nicky Morgan had raised this.
While good practice is highlighted, the advisory council report also acknowledges strong evidence that some prevention approaches are ineffective in reducing drug misuse. These include stand-alone, school-based curricula designed only to increase knowledge about illegal drugs, fear arousal approaches, and stand-alone mass media campaigns. That was backed up by the evidence that we received in the all-interested-Peers meeting.
It is therefore vital that we ensure that our young people are equipped with the best possible tools and skills to make positive choices about their health. We have implemented a range of activity to support this approach—for example, a new online resilience-building resource, Rise Above, aimed at 11 to 16 year-olds; developing the role of Public Health England to support local areas; sharing evidence to support commissioning and delivery of effective public health prevention activities; and launching toolkits. I was grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for the tone and content of the toolkit which is available in the pack and on the website.
The Government have also invested in resources to support schools; for example, the development of the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service, which provides practical advice and tools based on the best international evidence, including briefing sheets for teachers. In addition, Mentor UK, which runs the service, manages the Centre for the Analysis of Youth Transitions database, which hosts evaluations of education programmes aimed at improving outcomes for young people.
As part of its inspections programme, Ofsted will from September make a judgment about the quality of a school’s provision for pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare. The criteria for an outstanding judgment in this area include: that pupils are safe and feel safe at all times; that they understand how to keep themselves and others safe in different situations and settings; and that they can explain accurately and confidently how to keep themselves healthy. As part of judging the quality of leadership and management, Ofsted also evaluates the effectiveness and impact of provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, which includes understanding the consequences of their behaviour and actions and recognising legal boundaries.
We have also taken specific action to address the threat of psychoactive substances by publishing a resource pack, which I have referred to already.
As we will come to in a later debate, the Government already review annually their activities and progress under the Drug Strategy 2010, with the most recent review published in February this year. That is a cross-government, cross-departmental approach; it is published on the Home Office website. I am happy to undertake to write to colleagues who are in charge of that process drawing attention to this debate and the interest taken in monitoring the effectiveness of education on new psychoactive substances, because, as we have heard, be it in prisons or in children’s homes, the problem is growing.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving that undertaking. When he writes to his colleagues, will he broaden out the remit, or the request, so that he invites them to respond across the whole field of drug education and not simply in relation to new psychoactive substances?
I am trying to be helpful by responding particularly to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who asked what we were doing on evaluation. I have not consulted officials—perhaps they will be waiting for me in the corridor afterwards to tell me—but it seems to me sensible and appropriate to reflect the concerns expressed in this debate on how we evaluate.
As to more effective evaluation, we have again listened to comments made in Committee and have committed to post-legislative scrutiny after 30 months. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will accept that one of the problems—we heard this at the meeting we had—is the quality of data as to what works and what does not. It is like the old argument, whoever it was that said it, that half their advertising budget was wasted—the only problem was that they could not work out which half. It is one of the challenges that we have. We will have post-legislative scrutiny of the effect of the Bill after 30 months and we hope to draw some conclusions about the level of usage.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was uncharacteristically a little uncharitable about the Home Secretary’s response, which was sent within a matter of days. It was a substantive response which included the additional element that,
“we have recently refreshed our over-arching approach to reducing the demand for drugs, in line with the evidence-base set out by the ACMD, enabling us to take a broad approach to prevention”.
This is reflected in the wider use of social media and questioning, which allows young people to go online, raise questions themselves and have them answered by others. It has been found on the evidence that that tends to be a more effective way of communicating with young people, rather than figures of authority telling them, “This is the way that it should be”, or even former drug users talking about the dangers for them. From the evidence that was presented at the meeting and in the response, this kind of peer-to-peer interaction on social media, which FRANK does very well—FRANK being the website—might provide a way forward for the future.
Given the two undertakings—post-legislative scrutiny in 30 months and a significant section addressing the effectiveness of prevention and education—and the commitment to write to the cross-government group asking it to reflect on the debate we are having here about new psychoactive substances in its future annual report, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I certainly did not intend to be less than complimentary about the Home Secretary’s reply. I made the comment that the Home Secretary had made no response to the ACMD offer to suggest detailed amendments, including on the issue of education, treatment and harm reduction. I do not think there was a response on that aspect in the Home Secretary’s reply.
The Minister has hit the nail on the head: the issue is not what the programmes are and what the Government have but what it is they wish to achieve. The Minister said that what we hope to achieve through education is a very important part of the context, but I do not know where it is laid down what the Government have decided they want to achieve through education. What is the goal? What is the objective we are aiming for? We have a lot of programmes but I am not sure how we will know whether those programmes have achieved anything if we do not know what goal the programmes are designed to achieve. In any review or examination, which was one of the main purposes of the amendment, we will need to know how effective the measures have been. That is one of the issues raised in the amendment where it refers to,
“a subsequent review of the effectiveness of the measures taken”.
I appreciate that the Minister has moved some way, both with the proposal in his letter to me of a review of,
“the operation of the Act”,
and with what he said this evening about writing to those responsible for the annual report on the Government’s drug strategy and inviting them to consider including information about new psychoactive substances. I am very grateful to the Minister for that response and for coming some way towards meeting us on this amendment, albeit that he does not feel able to accept the amendment as it is. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
52: Before Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on new psychoactive substances.
(2) The report under subsection (1) must be published, and a copy laid before each House of Parliament, within six months of the passing of this Act and annually thereafter.
(3) The report under subsection (1) shall include—
(a) the number of prosecutions, and convictions for sentences, for offences under sections 4 to 8 of this Act;(b) the operation of powers created under sections 12, 13 and 32 to 35 of this Act;(c) the number of new psychoactive substances identified in the UK;(d) the number of hospital admissions linked to new psychoactive substances which were—(i) poisonings;(ii) mental health related; and(iii) other;(e) the number of new psychoactive substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; and(f) the number of exemptions for psychoactive substances granted under section 3.”
We had an amendment in Committee that called for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on new psychoactive substances. We then set out some of the information that should be included in that report. This amendment basically seeks the same. The lack of basic data and information was an issue identified by the Government’s expert panel. These issues included the difficulty for any one agency of keeping abreast of all the new developments. The acknowledgement that the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971 needs to be supplemented by other legislation has meant that more professional networks, including trading standards, require information. The current time lags between data collection and publication of data obtained by current networks mean that the systems cannot be employed in the service of providing more timely early warning-type information. Finally, there is a need to collect, analyse and distribute information in a more systematic and timely fashion to help inform policy and practice at both a national and local level.
In his recent letter to me on the government amendments for Report, the Minister said that the Government were not persuaded of the need,
“to produce an annual report on the operation of the Act”,
but that they,
“agree that … there is a case for a one-off duty to review the operation of the Act and to lay a report on the review before Parliament”.
Accordingly, government Amendment 55,
“requires such a report to be prepared and laid before Parliament within 30 months of the coming into force of Clauses 4 to 8 of the Bill”.
In his letter, the Minister continued:
“This timetable would allow for the collection of two years’ worth of data on the operation of the Act”,
and that data were,
“of the kind set out in your amendment 105 at Committee stage”,
which would help to inform the review.
Is the noble Baroness able to say a little more about the information that will be provided in the review referred to in government Amendment 55 and the extent to which it will include the kind of issues referred to in my amendment on annual reporting? Surely, after the first review of the operation of the Act, which the government amendment says will be within 30 months of Clauses 4 to 8 coming into force, there should be regular updates since the facts about the effectiveness of the operation of the Act and the measures taken may change.
Alternatively—what I ask comes back to what the Minister said on the previous amendment—will the information that we have called for in our amendment also be covered in the annual report on the Government’s drugs strategy, to which, as I have said, the Minister made reference in relation to the previous amendment on education, training and prevention? I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 54 in this group ranges more widely than that of my noble friend, and might indeed be regarded as somewhat clunky. However, it is intended to be illustrative of the range of issues that I think ought to be covered in a proper annual review or annual report issued by the Home Office.
I have looked at the three annual reviews issued since 2013. The February 2015 review of the progress of the Drug Strategy 2010 consists of all of 28 pages of text. It covers some of the issues indicated in my amendment which I think ought to be covered in an annual review, but far from all of them. I am afraid to say that it seems to me a thin and superficial document which is simply not commensurate with the importance and complexity of the issue and the major social challenge that drug abuse presents. It is also an inadequate form of accountability to Parliament, being as flimsy as it is. It contrasts with the European Drug Report, which is produced annually by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which is a much more substantial document, containing tables, graphs, citations and footnotes—an altogether more serious and substantial report. We do not find that kind of material in the Home Office’s annual review.
The Minister said in her foreword to the latest annual review, “We are not complacent”. That is good. However, on page 10, she spoke about:
“Promotion of good practice in demand reduction in NPS at EU and international level, led by the UK”.
That is a fine assertion but, as I said in the previous debate, not to me a convincing one. Regrettably, the annual review does not go on to tell us what this promotion has meant or what the good practice in demand reduction should be.
The expert panel’s report said on page 53 that adequate monitoring of whatever the policy proves to be,
“needs to be in place”.
I think that it was looking for a substantial annual review. It also seems to me that the implication of the letter from Professor Iversen to the Home Secretary of 2 July is that a whole range of issues need to be kept under solid and informative review.
The expert panel report contains a very important section on pages 35 to 36, in which it sets out the key opportunities and the key risks of the policy that the Government have embarked upon in this legislation. Among the key risks are those of supply, demand, enforcement, harms, forensic science, legal issues and communications. Among the opportunities are, again, supply, demand, enforcement, harms, forensic science, legal issues, communications and costs, so, according to the expert panel, there are both opportunities and risks entailed in the Government’s policy. I suggest that certainly the Government’s initial report, which they have promised to issue within 30 months, but also the annual review issued by the Home Office, ought to deal in very substantial measure with all those opportunities and risks that have been found.
The section of the European Monitoring Centre report on prevention tells us that the use of NPSs by young adults ranged from a high of 9.7% in Ireland to a low of 0.2% in Portugal. It also tells us that Sweden, which practises a draconian prohibitionist policy, has the second-highest drug-induced mortality among 15 to 64 year-olds. These are among the sorts of pieces of information that ought also to appear in the Home Office’s annual review.
Page 15 of the last edition of the annual review, in the section discussing restricting supply, referred briefly to liaison with Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Africa, but had nothing whatever to say about liaison with China and India, which are the key countries in terms of NPSs. On page 19, we are told that the UK,
“chaired a G7+ country Expert Meeting … in Berlin in November 2014”,
which led to agreement on a “set of actions”, but we are not told what the actions were. On page 23, we are told that there is a strategy of:
“Transferring the responsibility for developing locally led, integrated, recovery orientated treatment systems to local authorities”,
but there is no discussion of the funding situation for local authorities—the very large cuts there have already been, followed, of course, by the cuts just announced to the funding for Public Health England.
On page 7 of the annual review, we are told that a final evaluation will be made of the 2010 strategy, but it is a hesitant commitment to a cost-benefit analysis. We are told that:
“Where there is sufficient data the evaluation will also provide cost-benefit estimates”.
A cost-benefit analysis is one of the requirements in my amendment. On page 6, the review tells us with apparent confidence that,
“we have taken a comprehensive and evidence-based approach”.
But later on, we are told that we will get this cost-benefit analysis:
“Where there is sufficient data”.
On page 8, it says there will be a section in the evaluation,
“clearly setting out the barriers to undertaking a full cost-benefit analysis”.
We need to know what the barriers in the way of the cost-benefit analysis may be. It is Parliament’s classic function—not of this House but the other place—to vote resources to make possible the realisation of government policy. I submit that Parliament needs to have the information on the effectiveness of policies before it votes a further instalment of funding. Is the barrier in the way of a full cost-benefit analysis going to be that there are simply insufficient resources, or a failure of co-ordination across Whitehall; or will it be due in part to the past difficulties in co-operation between the Home Office and the ACMD?
The section on prisons, which was the subject of considerable debate in your Lordships’ House earlier today, is utterly perfunctory. In the light of yesterday’s report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the ombudsman’s report, the interview with a prison governor on the “Today” programme this morning, and the speech made by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, in which he said that, according to one prison governor, the use of NPS in prisons was rife, we need a much more candid and fuller account in the annual review of the difficulties that there clearly are within the prison system.
Welcome as it is, as far as it goes, the annual review does not go nearly far enough. It is an inadequate report and it should include responses from across the range of government, including in particular the Department for Education, which, as I suggested earlier, I do not believe is pulling its weight to support the Home Office in addressing some of the gravest social problems that this country faces.
We will have a report, as promised, from the Government within 30 months of certain clauses coming into effect, and that will feed usefully into post-legislative scrutiny. But as my noble friend Lord Rosser said, we will need in addition regular annual reports that are adequate in range and depth.
My Lords, I would not dissent from the points that have been made about what should go into an annual report. I rise very briefly to comment on Amendment 55 and to commend my noble friend Lord Bates for tabling it; it is extremely helpful. He has already touched on it and the reasons for it, and I just reinforce that. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, did not I think disagree with having the review, but suggested that there should be a second one later on. The point I would make is that there will be: most Acts are now subject to review four to five years after enactment, so this measure would come up for review at that point in the normal course of events. What we have here is an early review, which is eminently sensible in the context of this measure, and it is being done on a statutory basis. I have long advocated post-legislative review. I think it is an excellent thing and now, as I say, it has been brought in as a matter of course. But, where necessary, it is very valuable for it to be made on a statutory basis, for it to be included in a measure so that it is a firm provision. It will be reviewed within 30 months, which, in the context of the measure, is an appropriate period. I commend the Government for bringing this amendment forward.
My Lords, I undertook to reflect on the various amendments that were tabled in Committee. Having reflected, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, stated, we have brought forward Amendment 55 in this group.
As I indicated in Committee, post-legislative scrutiny of all primary legislation takes place three to five years after Royal Assent. We accept that there is a case here for special treatment. The Government are bringing forward their post-legislative scrutiny of this particular piece of legislation and will place a review of the operation of the Act on a statutory footing.
We remain firmly of the view that that the duty to undertake a review should be a one-off requirement, rather than a continuing annual requirement with all the costs that that would entail. We are not persuaded of the benefit of undertaking a bespoke review of this legislation year after year. I appreciate that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is not confined to a review of this legislation, but my point about the resource constraints carries ever more weight when one looks down the list of matters to be addressed in the noble Lord’s annual review of the Government’s drugs strategy.
Given these considerations, the Government’s amendment simply requires a review of the operation of the Act and places a duty on the Home Secretary to prepare a report on the review and lay a copy of the report before both Houses of Parliament within 30 months of the Bill coming into force. As noble Lords know, a period of 30 months has been specified in order to allow for the collection of up to two years’ worth of data post implementation.
The need for a review of the Bill was one of the issues raised by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in its letter of 2 July to the Home Secretary. In the Home Secretary’s response, published yesterday, she said:
“The Home Office is keen to work with the ACMD and would welcome the opportunity to have an early discussion on both the scale and scope of the review having regard to resource constraints, and how to make best use of existing data and evidence”.
Until we have had those discussions with the advisory council, it would be wrong to commit now to the review taking a particular form. I can say that I would expect the review to cover much of the ground identified in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
Turning to Amendment 54 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I agree that many of the issues he raises need to be looked at from time to time. That is why we already produce an annual review of our 2010 drugs strategy. The most recent annual review was published in February and highlighted the progress made across the three strands of the strategy—namely, reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. The report also set out our future commitments, including new initiatives and actions to respond to emerging evidence and the changing nature of the drugs market.
I recognise that substance misuse is not an issue that government can tackle alone. We value contributions made by our key partners to support the delivery of the 2010 strategy, including: our independent experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency; international partners; and those working within the prevention, treatment and recovery sector. We are also committed to ensuring that, where possible, we assess the effectiveness and value for money of the 2010 strategy. Furthermore, our action to restrict the supply of illicit drugs is complemented by activity through the serious and organised crime strategy, which was launched in 2013 and which has been the subject of its own annual report. Together, the strategies are making significant steps forward in tackling the supply of drugs by organised criminals in the UK and overseas.
We recognise that drugs are a complex and evolving issue, so we will continue to develop the strategy and consider other approaches to help us respond to emerging threats and challenges. We will also continue to report in a proportionate way on progress in tackling these threats and meeting these challenges. I hope that noble Lords will agree that on reflection the approach taken in Amendment 55, coupled with the existing reporting on the 2010 drugs strategy, is the right way forward and, on that basis, that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I thank noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and the Minister for her response and for addressing government Amendment 55. I am obviously a little disappointed that there is apparently to be a one-off review, with no further review, although I note the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. It rather begs the question: if the Government are determined that it will be a one-off review and no more, what happens if the report that comes out is rather negative in respect of the operation of the Act? Surely if that were so, there would be a strong case for a further review within a fairly short time to see whether the situation had improved, and perhaps to set out what had happened in relation to any recommendations there might be in the review of the operation of the Act. There is presumably not much point in having such a review if problems are found and no recommendations are made as to how they might be addressed.
That issue will probably have to be left for another day, but I am not sure that it is necessarily wise for the Government to shut the door on any further review of the operation of the Act when that very review might make a case for one within a short time, particularly if it finds that the situation is not as satisfactory as one might have hoped. However, I appreciate that the Government have made some movement with their Amendment 55. I also note the noble Baroness’s comments that much of the information set out in our Amendment 52 is likely to be covered in the review of the operation of the Act under government Amendment 55. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.
55: After Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Before the end of the period mentioned in subsection (2), the Secretary of State must—
(a) review the operation of this Act, (b) prepare a report of the review, and(c) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.(2) The period referred to in subsection (1) is the period of 30 months beginning with the day on which sections 4 to 8 come into force.”
Amendment 55 agreed.
Clause 56: Interpretation
Amendment 56 not moved.
Schedule 4: Consequential amendments
Amendment 57 not moved.