Army: Compulsory Drugs Test

– in the House of Lords at 11:13 am on 18th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative 11:13 am, 18th March 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to reduce the numbers of those who are discharged from the Army for failing a compulsory drugs test.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, drug misuse is detrimental to operational effectiveness and is incompatible with military service. Our strategy for combating it is based on the twin pillars of deterrence, focused on a comprehensive education and training programme, and detection, based on the compulsory drug testing programme.

Personnel who fail a compulsory drug test risk being discharged from the service. But an individual at lance corporal level or below who has failed a test may in certain specific circumstances be retained if it is considered to be in the interest of the service. In 2003, 110 personnel were retained on that basis.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Is he aware that in the past five years over 2,000 soldiers have been dismissed for failing drug tests? With the Army under strength by thousands we can ill afford to lose such high numbers of people. With a seemingly more permissive public environment in respect of cannabis, is the Army ensuring that personnel are aware of the consequences of drug taking? What is it doing to detect and apprehend the drug dealers?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, it is always disappointing when anyone has to be discharged from the Armed Forces but, in our judgment, drug taking in the Armed Forces is just not acceptable for reasons that I have already set out. Of course, we understand that many who enter the Army today are of a generation in which a different view is perhaps taken about the significance of using cannabis. That is why we have the comprehensive substance misuse education and training programme, which covers all phases of an individual's Army service, from recruit training to senior command. The measures include the delivery of a formal substance misuse education package to all recruits, drug awareness presentations and substance misuse training at career, leadership and management courses.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, I support the Government's position on drugs. Obviously, drugs misuse while using heavy machinery or during weapons training is unacceptable. Can the Minister say whether counselling of individual services by an independent body is also being considered, as many young soldiers below the age of 18 will have come into contact with cannabis and will have experienced peer pressure to try it? In addition, cannabis stays in the system for a number of weeks.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, in our judgment the comprehensive substance misuse education and training programme is appropriate for the exact reason that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentions, which is that some people may come in to the forces having been in an environment where drug taking takes place and may have experimented with it themselves. If the Armed Forces were to relax their position on this issue too much, the effect would be extremely bad.