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Drugs: Black Review

Volume 815: debated on Tuesday 19 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Dame Carol Black’s Review of drugs part two: prevention, treatment and recovery, published on 8 July.

On 27 July, the Government published an initial response to Dame Carol Black’s review, welcoming all 32 recommendations and setting out a clear cross-government commitment to the agenda. The Government have also committed to respond to the review in full by the end of the year and to set out a long-term drug strategy which will present our whole-government response to drive down drug supply and demand.

My Lords, I also welcome my noble friend to his place on the Front Bench. With entrenched drug use driving half of the nation’s crime and people with serious drug addiction occupying one in three prison places, does he accept Dame Carol Black’s finding that the current public provision for drug misuse, prevention, treatment and recovery is not fit for purpose and that Her Majesty’s Government face an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences?

I thank my noble friend for the question and the point he made so forcefully. In January, the Government announced a £148 million crime package for 2021-22, which has been allocated to local authorities for drug treatment and recovery services, with a focus on improving services for offenders and reducing deaths. This is the largest increase in drug treatment funding for 15 years.

My Lords, we have a very good example inside the UK of the short-term impact of cutbacks in rehabilitation and treatment. In Scotland, we now have the highest level of drug-related deaths in Europe, partly as a result of cutbacks in treatment and rehabilitation made over the past decade by the Scottish Government. The UK Government share some responsibilities on drug policy with the Scottish Government under the devolution settlement, so will they guarantee to work with the Scottish Government to try to turn around this devastating situation?

In September 2020, Kit Malthouse and Jo Churchill, the then Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, co-chaired a UK ministerial meeting focusing on UK-wide approaches to drugs misuse. The second UK drugs ministerial took place at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast on 11 October. The Government maintain a commitment to consulting the devolved Administrations—or devolved Governments in many cases—as well as a number of expert speakers.

My Lords, the Government’s initial response welcoming Dame Carol Black’s recommendation to create a cross-departmental approach to tackling drugs misuse and related harm is welcome. However, they have not responded to many of the key recommendations, of which the most important is the introduction of multi-year ring-fenced funding for treatment services, distributed by local need, with at least £552 million invested in the treatment system annually by the end of year 5. When will the Government’s full response be published? Will Dame Carol’s recommendations be fully funded?

The Government have committed to giving a full response to Dame Carol Black’s review by the end of the year and have already taken action. Since part 1 of her review, the Government have announced £148 million of investment to tackle drugs misuse, supply and county-lines activity. That also includes £80 million for drug treatment and recovery services.

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister consider the third option, not mentioned by my noble friend Lord Moylan; namely, a partial decriminalisation? The evidence from those European countries and US states that have pursued this course is that not only does it relieve pressure on the police, the criminal justice system and the taxpayer but it leads to a decline in the number of drugs-related deaths. I appreciate that this is a complex issue and that there are strong views on all sides, so perhaps my noble friend the Minister will consider a temporary experimental change in the laws, as Parliament did over changing our time zone, where we lift the restrictions for a year, and then at the end of that we have a vote.

I thank my noble friend for reminding us of the third option—or the third way, as some might say. It is really important that we consider all views, and I have read, over the years, many arguments in favour of liberalisation. At the same time, however, I have also read many criticisms from drug treatment charities, saying that it is not as simple as that. At this point, the Government are not committed to any trials on the basis suggested.

My Lords, I refer the Minister to Dame Carol Black’s assertion that

“we can no longer, as a society, turn a blind eye to recreational drug use.”

Will the Minister make it very clear that the downgrading of cannabis—the making of cannabis legal—would send out a message that it is fine? But it is not fine for those millions of young people all over the country who get caught up with cannabis. It is a gateway drug, and the Government should not be thinking of doing anything like what the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, has suggested.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question and for her point that it is important to continue to invest in drug treatment services, but also to make sure that we stop drug users from engaging with drugs in the first place.

My Lords, among some 32 recommendations, Dame Carol stressed the importance of getting more people into treatment who require it, diverting people away from the criminal justice system, and ensuring that service users are given a wider package of support for housing, employment and mental health. With drug-related deaths in England and Wales rising for the eighth year in a row in 2020, what conclusions might be drawn about the effectiveness or otherwise of the current cross-government approach to tackling addiction? Can the Minister assure the House that wisdom will prevail such that funding for substantive health support services to tackle addiction will be announced in the comprehensive spending review?

The Government have committed to answering in full the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s review. In terms of joined-up thinking across government, the Government established the new Joint Combating Drugs Unit—the JCDU—in July 2021 to co-ordinate, and drive a genuinely cross-government approach to, drugs policy. The JCDU brings together different government departments, including those that the noble Baroness mentioned—the Department for Health and Social Care, the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice—to help tackle drugs misuse across society by adopting a cross-government approach.

My Lords, the drug treatment and recovery workforce has deteriorated in quantity, quality and morale in recent years, with excessive case loads, decreased training and lack of clinical supervision. How do the Government plan to increase the number of professionally qualified drug treatment staff and improve occupational standards and training requirements?

The Government will answer all the recommendations in Dame Carol Black’s review by the end of the year. In response to the noble Baroness’s specific question, I shall write to her.

It is hard to legislate to prevent drug use when it is such big business for organised crime globally. Many equatorial countries destroy their rainforests so that they can grow drugs, because that is part of their economy. Are the Government looking at those two things: global organised crime syndicates and environmental devastation from drug growth?

The noble Baroness raises a very important point: we should look at this more globally, not just look at our country’s drug strategy in isolation. Various departments across government are looking at that and working with partners across the world, but I shall write to the noble Baroness in more detail.

The recurring theme in the report of the importance of holistic care—supporting individuals who use drugs with their health and well-being, housing needs and opportunities for education, training and employment—is very pleasing. It is also good that there is testimony in the report from people with lived experience, who can help to shape the support needed. Building on the question from my noble friend Lord McConnell, can the Minister explain how there will be a commitment to essential funding to put many of these excellent recommendations into practice, both in the UK and in the devolved Governments?

The Government will respond to the Dame Carol Black review by the end of the year, and that includes how much funding will be committed. The Government are committed to looking at the review’s distinct proposals to see what resources will be needed and to make that bid.

My Lords, we as a family have experienced the state of mental health services in the past six weeks, and I had the privilege of meeting numerous in-patients and the anguished, distraught parents of young people with drug-induced psychosis being looked after by the least-trained or well-equipped staff, often in the absence of adequate numbers of doctors and nurses in the ward, as well as in the community. In welcoming the noble Lord to his role, I ask him whether he will respond to Dame Carol Black’s call for £500 million for drug services. Will he argue for that and do his best to ensure that it is available to all those who need it, and will he agree to meet some of us to discuss this?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question; we have known each other for a number of years, and I have always admired the work she has done in local communities in Tower Hamlets. In response to her specific question, I will commit to meet her and others who want to discuss this issue in more detail, but we have to wait until the end of the year for the Government’s response to Dame Carol Black’s review.