Drugs Bill

– in the House of Lords at 6:41 pm on 4th April 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 6:41 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill before us today is a tightly focused package of measures that aims to steer people away from a life of crime and into treatment, while making tougher powers available to the police and courts to deal with those who refuse to turn their backs on drugs.

I am grateful for the wide measure of cross-party support for the large majority of the provisions in the Bill. I hope and expect that your Lordships' House will wish to continue the constructive dialogue that was evident during the debates in the other place. That is not to say, however, that there are not differences of opinion on the precise detail of some of the clauses, nor that we should not properly discharge our responsibility to scrutinise carefully the legislation that comes before this House.

The Government's drugs strategy is firmly focused on reducing the harm that illegal drugs cause to society at all levels. We are tackling the problem from every possible angle, and are reducing the supply of drugs that enter the United Kingdom, while educating our young people about the harms caused by drugs, in order that they do not ever become problematic drug misusers. Where people have become involved in misusing drugs we aim to get them into treatment, and away from crime.

Our strategy is having a marked impact. Drug dens are being closed and local drug markets are being disrupted. Operation Hatch is compelling evidence of the success that we are having in tackling drug dealing in our cities. This multi-agency, undercover operation targeted class A drug dealers in Humberside. Drug-using communities were infiltrated and high-quality evidence of drug trafficking was gathered. Since January 2004 the operation has resulted in hundreds of people being arrested and charged, with total custodial sentences in excess of 600 years being meted out.

I must also note that class A drug use by young people has stabilised since 1998 after years of increase; and 54,000 more people are in treatment compared with 1998. Those very people are being diverted away from a life of crime.

The focus of the National Treatment Agency has been on reducing waiting times and increasing capacity with the aim of increasing the numbers of drug users in treatment. Its programme for increasing the numbers in treatment has been successful and the NTA will now be working on improving effectiveness and retention of drug users in treatment services.

The latest National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) data showed that 90,500 individuals either successfully completed treatment in 2003-04 or were retained in treatment on 31 March 2004. The NTA will be building on that progress.

The Government announced in 2004 that they are to increase their investment in drug treatment from £253 million in 2004-05 to £478 million by 2007-08. The NTA will be using some of these funds to enhance treatment effectiveness by: continued improvement in the quality of drug treatment provided; improvement and expansion of the case management of drug misusers including supported access to social integration services; and ensuring that the needs of women and black and minority ethnic groups are being met within services that are planned and provided.

We must not underestimate the challenges ahead. To stay one step ahead of drug barons we need to ensure that we have the right structures in place and the necessary, but proportionate, powers at the disposal of the police and courts.

We know that there is no room for complacency and that we must continue to build on the successes we have seen to date. That is why our strategy for the next three years will drive us to further reduce the availability of drugs and put even more drug dealers out of business. In order to do that we need to tackle production in source countries and disrupt international traffickers along with regional drug barons and local street dealers.

We shall continue to improve the education available for young people and will expand the routes into support and treatment services for the most vulnerable. We are also increasing the provision, quality and effectiveness of treatment, including in prisons. The Drugs Bill is a key part of that strategy, and was informed by the concerns raised by the police about the powers they need to tackle street-level drug dealers, and by the consultation that was carried out last summer, following publication of Policing: Modernising Police Powers to Meet Community Needs.

The majority of the measures within Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are specific, targeted powers that will help the police tackle the problem of street-level dealing of class A drugs. I propose to take a little time in opening because I know that a number of issues have caused concern to noble Lords. I wish in opening to deal with them as fully as I can.

In Clause 1 we stipulate that a court must treat dealing on or within the vicinity of school premises at a relevant time, or using a person under 18 as a courier, as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of the offence of supply committed by an adult. The aim of the provision is to protect children from exposure to drug dealing while they are attending school, and more generally.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has issued excellent guidance, which courts "must have regard to" when deciding on the seriousness of an offence. Those list, among other aggravating factors, "deliberately targeting vulnerable victim(s)". However, while that would cover supplying drugs to young people on or in the vicinity of school premises, it is unlikely to catch adults supplying to adults in that area. We want to catch such dealing between adults on the basis that it exposes children in the vicinity to a risk and because we want to eradicate such risks from the vicinity of school premises.

Furthermore, while the guidance is well known to courts, we wish to send a wider message to dealers about how they will be treated should they deal on or in the vicinity of school premises and a message of reassurance to parents, who we know express concern about dealing near schools.

While the Sentencing Guidelines Council has issued excellent guidance on many matters, including in respect of targeting vulnerable victims, we believe that the issue of dealing in the vicinity of school premises is of such importance that Parliament should issue a benchmark in that respect.

During debate in the other place much time was spent on Clause 1, in some cases because the Opposition wanted to widen the scope of the clause by extending protection to other places where young people congregate, for example, and on other occasions by introducing amendments that would potentially restrict the scope of the clause by defining in the Bill what we mean by "in the vicinity". I hope that the Government's position on the clause is now absolutely clear. The clause will remain tightly focused on the problem at hand: the protection of children while they are at school and from being used as drugs couriers.

We have provided examples of the factors that we imagine will be guiding factors for the courts to have regard to when they are considering what constitutes "in the vicinity". But we are clear that it is not appropriate to define in primary legislation what constitutes "in the vicinity", as the term is used without further definition and without problem in other legislation.

It was also suggested in the other place that we should widen the scope of the provision to make it an aggravating factor for drug dealing to occur on or in the vicinity of school premises at any time. With the greatest respect, there is no benefit to that proposal, because it would effectively mean that someone dealing in the vicinity of school premises in the middle of the school holidays, when they were not exposing any school children to the risks of drug dealing, may receive a harsher sentence. Let us be clear that we are protecting children during the time that they are present on school premises. If children are targeted at other times, courts already have discretion to treat the offence as aggravated on the basis that the defendant has targeted vulnerable victims.

Clause 2 creates an evidential presumption of intent to supply where the defendant is found to be in possession of a particular amount of a controlled drug. The effect is that where the presumption applies, a court or jury must assume that the defendant intended to supply the drug which is in his possession. We intend to make it more difficult for those dealing drugs to claim falsely that drugs in their possession are for personal use.

The particular level of a drug that will give rise to the presumption will vary from drug to drug. It will be prescribed in regulations approved by a resolution of both Houses. In formulating those regulations the Secretary of State will consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The thresholds set will be proportionate to the offence of possession with intent to supply the particular drug in question, to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Clause 3 amends Section 55 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to allow a court or jury to draw such inferences as appear proper, should consent to an intimate search be refused without good cause. Currently, a person's consent is not required under Section 55 of PACE for an intimate search to be undertaken. Its purpose is to enable those in possession of controlled drugs to be brought to justice by deterring those who conceal them in body cavities from withholding consent without good cause, and enabling courts and juries to act should they do so. Clause 4 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

Clause 5 enables a police officer of at least the rank of inspector to authorise an X-ray or ultrasound scan of a person arrested where he has reasonable grounds for believing that the person may have swallowed a class A drug that he had in his possession with intent to supply. Its purpose is to give police an indication of the need to detain someone to allow drugs to pass through their body. Clause 6 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

The Criminal Justice Act 1998 provided for a magistrates' court to commit a person charged with possession of a controlled drug or a drug trafficking offence into the custody of a customs officer for a period of up to 192 hours. That period of detention is designed to enable the recovery of evidence. Clause 8 gives magistrates similar powers to remand a person upon charge to the custody of a police officer, for a period of up to 192 hours.

For the avoidance of doubt, I make clear that Clauses 1 and 2 apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Clauses 3 and 4, taken together, apply the provision regarding drug offences searches to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Similarly Clauses 5 and 6, taken together, apply the ultrasound and X-ray provision to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Clause 8 also applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Let me briefly explain the powers in the other parts of the Bill. The powers that provide for testing on arrest and follow-up assessment will help us identify those who are misusing drugs at an earlier stage in their contact with the criminal justice system, allowing us to steer them into treatment and away from crime as soon as possible. Police will be given a power to request a person who has been arrested in certain circumstances to provide a sample for the purposes of testing for specified class A drugs—heroin and crack/cocaine—and, where a person tests positive for such a drug, will have a power to require those persons to attend an initial and follow-up assessment of their drug misuse. Where the assessor conducting the initial assessment does not consider it appropriate to require the person to attend the follow-up assessment, that second requirement will cease to apply.

Since anti-social behaviour orders were introduced, they have become a vital tool. The new civil intervention order that we seek to introduce will allow us to continue tackling the underlying causes of a person's anti-social behaviour. A court will be able to impose an intervention order in the interests of preventing a repetition of the person's anti-social behaviour. The order can direct the person to take part in activities prescribed by an appropriately qualified person that will help to address their substance misuse issues.

Clarifying the status of fresh magic mushrooms as a controlled drug will, we hope, decrease the trade in a harmful and hallucinogenic drug that is on a par with LSD.

I anticipate that the issue of cannabis is likely to be raised by noble Lords during this debate. As noble Lords will be aware, cannabis was reclassified to a class C drug on 29 January 2004. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, on 18 March to ask the council to conduct a comprehensive assessment on cannabis and its association with mental health problems. My right honourable friend wanted to be clear what influence the evidence presented in the more recently published studies had on the overall assessment of the classification of cannabis.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had considered possible links with mental illness prior to reclassification. It concluded that there is no proven causal link between cannabis use and the development of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, although cannabis use can unquestionably worsen a mental illness which already exists. Heavy cannabis use can produce a psychotic state, although this is in most cases short-lived. The use of cannabis should be discouraged in all people with mental health problems.

Since the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published its cannabis report in March 2002, it has continued to monitor new cannabis studies. It will consider further studies such as the Ferguson report from New Zealand published in March. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will agree its terms of reference of the review at its next meeting on 19 May and arrange its work programme. It is intended that the council will have concluded its assessment by its November meeting.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is vital that young people, in particular, are fully aware of the harms of taking drugs and can access the relevant information. The Home Office, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, have been developing a series of health messages around cannabis use through the FRANK campaign, with which I know that several noble Lords will be familiar. It is part of a broader communications programme targeting 13 year-olds to late 20 year-olds to communicate the mental and physical health risks associated with cannabis use. Other elements to the programme include targeting heavy and frequent cannabis smokers. The Government have been working closely with mental health organisations to produce materials for sufferers, carers and health professionals.

I should also mention the matter of the plant khat, which is known to be misused primarily within Somali communities in the UK. It is a plant which, when chewed, has an effect analogous to amphetamines. Khat suppresses appetite and is connected to problems of insomnia, anxiety and aggression. It is not a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The communities affected typically have high levels of male unemployment, low educational standards and high levels of poverty. Recent reports suggest a hidden issue of domestic violence. Excessive khat use can lead to psychotic reactions, although mental health issues among the Somali community are complex and can be related to post-traumatic stress.

The Government are very concerned at the social damage that khat misuse has on those communities. During the Committee stage of the Drugs Bill in another place, the Opposition tabled a new clause to control khat as a class A drug. In Committee, on 3 February, the Drugs Minister undertook to refer the matter to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and subsequently wrote to the chair of the council, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, to conduct an assessment of whether there was a case for making it a controlled drug. We will await the deliberations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which are expected before the end of the year. Khat does not fit the profile of other drugs, as its misuse is restricted to one or two ethnic groups. Its potential to become a controlled drug should be considered in that context.

I am aware of the special interest that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, has in the issue of khat misuse, as part of his wider interest in all matters relating to substance misuse. The care organisation Turning Point, which he heads, has recently published an excellent report detailing the social impact of khat misuse. The report's conclusions will be fed into the considerations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

This Government have a strong record of success in tackling drugs. We are seizing considerable amounts of drugs that enter the country. We are disrupting those gangs that peddle drugs and spread misery. More drug misusers are entering treatment and being retained in treatment programmes. Our comprehensive programme of work for the coming years will ensure that such success continues. This Bill will better equip the police and courts to tackle street-level drug dealers and steer people into treatment and away from crime. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs 7:02 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I find myself opening for the Opposition on a Home Office Bill for the fourth time in fewer than five weeks. The Government are behaving like a disastrous DIY addict, hurling paint at the wall in the hope that some of it might stick. Perhaps in the next few days we shall see.

The noble Baroness has already referred to the fact that there has been cross-party agreement on the principles behind the Bill and much of its content. In the constructive frame of mind adopted by my honourable and right honourable friends in another place, I shall, like the Minister, take some time in opening the debate to give as full a picture of our position as I may. But the noble Baroness will notice from the speakers' list that I have not burdened any of my colleagues with making a winding-up speech, because I thought that it was improper in these final hours of this Parliament to take up that time. If something urgent arises, perhaps I may intervene during the noble Baroness's response, but I suspect, given some of the explanations that she has already given, that that will not be necessary.

We welcome much of the Bill. We support it because it is a step in the right direction, albeit far too small a step. Drugs wreck lives—not only of users but often of their families, too. There are more than 4 million users of illegal substances in England and Wales and more than 1 million users of class A drugs. Cocaine use is up by 250 per cent over the past eight years and ecstasy use has doubled. Drug abuse among the young is increasing. British teenage boys top the European league of cannabis users. The BBC reported last week that we are now known as the cannabis capital of Europe, an accolade that we could well do without.

Cannabis is not a harmless drug. Super-potent varieties have emerged in the past 20 years. It can be a dangerous psychotropic drug that can do a great deal of harm. Scientific evidence continues to show a heightened risk of mental illness for those who use cannabis regularly. A recent report suggested that someone who starts using cannabis at 15 has more than four times the risk of developing schizophrenia as someone who starts at 18—not that I recommend starting at any age.

Marjorie Wallace, head of the mental health charity SANE, said last month:

"Far from being a relatively harmless recreational drug, for vulnerable teenagers the innocent spliff, or chilling out, could trigger a journey of life-long disintegration".

I welcome the fact that, at last, the Government have announced that they are rethinking their downgrading of cannabis from class B to class C in 2004. The noble Baroness laid out the case for why the matter has been referred to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. We all await the result of that report.

As the Home Secretary recognised in a Written Answer when he was in another guise at the Home Office:

"It is undoubtedly the case that most users of class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, started off by using so-called soft drugs, normally cannabis".—[Hansard, Commons, 31/10/00; col. 430W.]

Drug smuggling continues apace. It is estimated that seizures account for only about 10 per cent of the drugs coming into the country. The price of heroin has more than halved since 1995. Crack can be bought in some areas for £10 and ecstasy for £1. Cocaine used to be so expensive that only so-called society users could afford it. That is certainly not the case now; it is within the reach of just about all.

We know that, all too often, the cost of drug dependency for all of society is crime. Drug-related offences have risen by a quarter in the past three years alone. The Government acknowledge that about 70 per cent of acquisitive crime is drug-related. About 75 per cent of hard-drug users commit crime to obtain drugs, and persistent drug users who are offenders commit almost 10 times as many crimes as people who do not use drugs. Against that backdrop we would have hoped for a Bill that struck deep at the heart of the problem. Here we have one that makes a gentle stab at some of the issues. It is welcome but we would have liked to see more.

I am grateful to the Minister for her care in clarifying a confusion that arose in another place. She referred to how the Bill will affect Northern Ireland and Scotland in particular. That was most helpful.

Clause 1 provides for the supply of drugs to children on school premises or in the vicinity of a school to be considered as an aggravating factor when sentence is determined. Nobody could argue with the Government's intent, but I am still not convinced that the route that they have adopted will be the most effective or appropriate.

There are a couple of other solutions, one of which the noble Baroness has dealt with in considerable detail today: why would not the Sentencing Guidelines Council be the most appropriate route? I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness's remarks. Before her explanation, I still felt that the Sentencing Guidelines Council was the appropriate group to do the job on the basis that it does it in respect of other offences and that it could adequately meet the needs here. But I hear what she says: the current issue is that they have a guideline on deliberately targeting vulnerable victims, and the Government are concerned that thereby one would not catch adult-to-adult trading within the vicinity of the school, where a child could be exposed to that activity—whether the child is connected with that adult or just an observer. That is why the Government seek to create a parliamentary benchmark in this respect. It may be a persuasive argument and so I will not take the matter further today. If we return to the matter in Committee, I might adopt that argument for a more softly-softly approach, just to tease it out. The Minister may have persuaded me on that point.

I am interested that in Clause 1 the Government have turned their back on an alternative route. They have fought shy of creating an offence of aggravated supply. Accordingly, the jury will determine whether or not the defendant is guilty of the offence under Section 4(3) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The judge will then determine whether either of the aggravating conditions is met. That is not necessarily a problem. But it is highly unusual to specify in statute the features of the offence that will aggravate the sentence but not to create a specific aggravated offence. Will the noble Baroness say why the Government have decided against that more normal route? As I say, I do not find an objection—this may work—but it is a different approach, which needs to be justified.

I accept what the noble Baroness said about vicinity. She said that there was a great deal of debate in another place. Since we had our all-party meeting with the noble Baroness, I have looked at other statutes. I accept that there are difficulties in defining "vicinity" and that there may be valid reasons for wanting to have later definitions that are more flexible. So, if we were to get to Committee stage, I would not pursue that point any further.

With regard to the trading of drugs to children, the Government have missed a golden opportunity to tackle the wider threat. Perhaps they should consult the Sentencing Guidelines Council on extending the aggravating factor to dealing to children in other areas where it is certain that dealers might expect to find them—of course, another place covered dealing, for example, on transport to school, including buses, and at youth clubs.

So far, the response of the Government has been to say, "Ah, but we have specified schools because there is a legal requirement to be there". I look beyond that. I look to see where children can be found and where they are a vulnerable target. I seek to protect them in those places.

Justice points out in its helpful briefing—in fact, it is so helpful that it is the only organisation that has had time to brief noble Lords: I think that most organisations believe that since this Bill must be dead, there is no point in telling noble Lords anything—that it is,

"concerned that the clause has not been drafted so as to properly address the mischief of involving children in the drugs trade. For example, the clause would not apply to cases where children had been employed in the preparation or wrapping of drugs, or where children were being sold drugs on or near premises such as youth clubs or their homes".

I pray its argument in aid, but it also adds the issue of children who are employed in the preparation of drugs for sale. So there is still something to be tackled beyond Clause 1.

Clause 2 establishes a presumption of intent to supply where the defendant is in possession of a particular amount of a controlled drug. We agree that it would be helpful to clarify the point at which the quantity of drugs in a person's possession becomes over and above that which should be reasonably held for personal use. The problem is that the clause does not achieve that. The Government have set themselves an almost impossible task and I appreciate their difficulty.

The clause gives the Secretary of State the power to define the amount for different drugs in different ways by means of regulations subject to statutory instrument. Is that really satisfactory? It is always easy to pick holes in arguments, but this one is a kind of lace, a web. For example, there will have to be a certain arbitrariness built into that procedure. Where should you draw the line? If the prescribed amount for ecstasy tablets for personal use is 25, 50 or 100, why should having 26, 51 or 101 make you an automatic supplier in the absence of other evidence to the contrary?

Another problem is the circumstance in which drugs are possessed. Suppose that the prescribed maximum for personal use is 25 tablets of ecstasy. According to the Bill, it may be okay to have 25 tablets at home—not according to me, again I have to say—but what if you have them with you at a night club? Would not that circumstance lead one to believe that it is unlikely that you had them with you for personal use? Surely that shows some of the straightforward defects in the drafting of Clause 2.

I also find the approach of the Government in Clause 2 intriguing for another reason. They have provided for only an evidential burden. That burden will be quite easy to discharge if a defendant simply goes into the witness box and says "I did not intend to supply"—end of story.

Of course, prior to the existence of Clause 2, the defendant would not be required to give evidence. So the impact of Clause 2 is—where the defendant is proved to have more than the maximum prescribed quantity of drugs in his possession—if the defendant wants to avoid a conviction for supply, he will be obliged to give evidence himself or to call other evidence. In fact, there will not be others—it will be him or nothing. I find that intriguing. In our usual discussions about forcing defendants to give evidence, it is an interesting development.

We welcome the provisions of Clauses 3 to 6 and 8 that give the police and the courts new powers to tackle drug dealers who swallow or conceal drugs on their bodies to avoid arrest. They are a practical move forward. But why have the Government set the age for testing for class A drugs for those over 18? Why not seize the opportunity to extend the testing to those under 18? What guidelines will be put in place to ensure that people are not requested to undergo more scans or X-rays than would be safe? What about pregnant women or others for whom an X-ray could be hazardous?

What kind of care programme do the Government intend to put in place for those who test positive? Under the current arrest referral scheme, the Government's research seems to show that 97 per cent of those interviewed failed to make it into effective treatment. The drug treatment and testing order seems to have only a 28 per cent completion rate.

Clause 20 expands the use of anti-social behaviour orders. It provides for a new order that can be made alongside an ASBO when drug misuse has been the cause of the behaviour that led to the ASBO being made. We believe that that proposal deserves attention—but also proper use and implementation. If we have a Committee stage, we would want to look at the Government's commitment to rolling this out to everyone who needs it. According to the Explanatory Notes, at the moment the Government are planning for only about 100 intervention orders a year, which is a very tiny amount when one takes into account all those who could benefit from it.

Clause 21 makes a reasonable clarification of the law in respect of magic mushrooms. I have learnt more than I ever thought I wanted to about them. Whatever form they are in, they are to be classified as class A drugs. That is sensible. We will wait to see whether that is implemented. Apparently there is a very strong import trade in them. I wonder what will happen to that particular trade.

The Bill is also a story of missed opportunities. It does not tackle the dealing of drugs to young people effectively enough. We would like to see further development on that. It does not give us more effective punishment of those who deal in drugs repeatedly, time and time again, as the Private Member's Bill promoted by my honourable friend Nigel Evans would do. It does not require residential rehabilitation of those who take drugs.

It does not take the opportunity to deal with the problem of khat. I listened with interest to what the Minister had to say. I respect the fact that the matter has now been referred to the advisory council. As long ago as November 1998 I asked the Government why they did not take action on khat, considering the reports of the Home Office itself at that stage on the widespread use of khat in London and the impact on social problems, particularly domestic violence.

The Government said that they would keep it under review. Perhaps they will understand that I am a little cynical that there will be another review. But the fact that it has gone to the advisory council will, I hope, give it the proper status that it deserves. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, will address the issue of khat.

Those missed opportunities are matters to which we should return on another occasion. In the mean time, the achievement that can never be undervalued is not one achieved by any of us—either the Opposition or the Government. It is the achievement of people up and down the country who work tirelessly to help those who have fallen foul of drugs. I would like to conclude my remarks with my thanks to them for their counselling, assessment, referral and advice, and for through-care teams in prisons, drug action teams, general practitioners and the extensive voluntary sector. It is their contribution to society that is both admirable and invaluable.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 7:18 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the provisions of this Bill. I accept much of what the noble Baroness has said, and it makes sense. Perhaps I may add that I also endorse much of the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. At some stage, I hope that we will have sufficient time to deal with the issue in much more detail. But I suspect that we are back to the unreal situation.

It is not controversial—it has the support of all parties—but it is important to bear in mind that, despite the fact that we give our broad support, it is dangerous to cut corners on legislation of this kind. The Bill is before us and it is right that we give our considered views on a matter that has seriously affected the pattern of crime in this country. Various attempts have been made to rationalise our policy on drugs and drug users. On the matter of drugs and the law, opinions are divided, and they will remain divided.

The increasing availability and use of illegal drugs, along with large-scale alcohol abuse, are contributing to crime in our society. Systematic monitoring of our criminal justice system demonstrates example after example of the link between drug abuse and crime to pay for drugs. The public debate on this subject is often emotive. Frequent studies reveal differing and conflicting views. The report I have found most convincing is the report of the independent inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 chaired by Lady Runciman. It is an authoritative report based not on assumptions but on hard facts resulting from discussions held with some of the foremost experts and professionals in the field.

The public are concerned about drug abuse and its consequences. Communities are blighted by drug users and dealers. I shall quote from a letter received this morning by my noble friend Lord Avebury from a resident of Soho:

"We all know that drugs are endemic to the late night so called 'clubs' attracting a clientele mainly between the ages of 14 and approx 30. We all of us also know that there is an entire ecosystem that grows up around and in connection with these premises, from dealers to wholesalers to people who 'rent out' space in and around the premises late at night, who offer other sundry services and indeed a panoply of activities all of which are illegal and many of which are dangerous and most of which ruin the amenity of an area".

The frightening aspect of this letter is the extent to which drug users and dealers threaten the residents of an area.

These concerns will not go away. It must be accepted that there is a drug dependency culture and that it cannot be swept under the carpet. It is exploited by drug barons and dealers whose sole aim is to make money, irrespective of the harm caused to other people, particularly young people. In many countries, laundered money is used to buy arms to support wars around the world. It is a fact that large communities are often displaced, which adds to poverty, despair, and then results in refugees seeking asylum elsewhere. The issue of drugs is a serious problem which requires serious consideration. I am glad that the Home Office has at last seen fit to produce this legislation.

During my days as a magistrate in Sussex, I came across many young people who had a detailed knowledge of drugs. The same could not be said for their parents. There is a wide gap between the solutions sought by parents and the knowledge possessed by young people.

This Second Reading gives us an opportunity for an informed debate. In essence, but with some reservations, we support the Bill. If pushed hard, we would welcome a code of practice on extended police powers so that there is no doubt of the outcome of police action. That is because we have to confront these difficult issues with a view to seeking solutions. The Bill goes some way to providing those answers.

The Drugs Bill is timely. But let me go back to the Government's response to the Runciman report. They missed the opportunity to modernise our drug laws and they ignored the balanced, research-based evidence, thus missing the opportunity to ensure better and more effective use of resources. I have no doubt that public opinion is comfortable with open and honest discussion.

Research carried out across Europe demonstrates that we in the United Kingdom are increasingly out of step with developments in drug law. Often this has caused serious confusion in the minds of the public. The police seem to operate different standards in different parts of London. It is time to ensure absolute clarity on the part of the Metropolitan Police on this subject.

On the one hand we want to adhere to international conventions, but we refuse to follow the example of other countries where there is greater flexibility within the rules. Belgium and Portugal focus on drugs as public health issues with prevention and treatment as key tools, placing less dependence on the criminal law. It is a shame that the Government's long-term strategy for tackling drugs to build a better Britain has had poor results.

Let us look at the targets that have been set up: halving the number of young people using drugs, especially heroin and cocaine; halving the number of reoffending drug misusers to protect our communities from drug-related anti-social and criminal behaviour; doubling drug treatment measures and halving the availability of drugs on our streets, especially heroin and cocaine. But we still trail behind in drug treatment models in our penal institutions.

There has been improvement, which is welcome, but we have a long way to go. A substantial reallocation of resources is needed to provide more treatment facilities. We cannot ignore the fact that the number of offences committed by addicts is reduced by one-fifth when proper treatment is available. We therefore welcome the emphasis on introducing new measures to deal with the problems caused by the misuse of controlled drugs. We also welcome the measures designed to break the link between drug use and crime.

Those who target or peddle drugs to our children must be subject to harsher sentences. However, in the past I increasingly witnessed as a magistrate the harsh sentencing of mules who bring drugs to our shores while the real culprits are hardly ever caught. So I hope that the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which we will be talking about tomorrow, will make good progress in identifying and prosecuting drug barons.

There are matters relating to police powers set out in Part 2. We want to scrutinise these to ensure that they are not simply prescriptive. They must be proportionate and not discriminatory in their use. This is not the time to go into the detail, and I do not intend to address the Bill clause by clause. However, I want to raise two points clearly identified by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out, the Joint Committee has rightly questioned the statutory assumption about intent to supply when the possession of controlled drugs rises above a certain quantity in relation to Article 6(2) of the ECHR. The second matter concerns the use of X-ray, ultrasound or intimate searches which may not be compatible with Article 6(1). I want to add to the comments made by the noble Baroness and say that this is an issue where cultural sensitivities are also vital. The Joint Committee offers safeguards to overcome some of these concerns and I hope very much that they will be incorporated either in the Bill or in the Minister's response to the debate.

The points raised by the Joint Committee are endorsed by RELEASE and the Transform Drug Policy Foundation:

"We believe that the Bill is overly focused on criminal justice interventions that have a poor record of effectiveness. Arguments presented by the government to support these measures specifically around deterrent effects and reducing availability are not evidence based".

I shall be delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, has to say on this matter.

"Some clauses risk breaching the Human Rights Act 1998, especially Articles 6 and 8, which provide the right to a fair trial and the right to respect for a private life".

Equally, we would like to see systematic monitoring to ensure that police powers do not have an adversarial effect on dealings with persons from ethnic minority communities.

I am glad that the Minister at the Home Office, Caroline Flint, has gone some way in amending the Bill to ensure that the provisions of Clause 1 apply to any school premises, including any ancillary school building and playing fields. There are, of course, issues that one needs to tease out, but I am broadly satisfied with the amendments proposed.

In conclusion, when we see the Bill again, let us hope that it is a product of adequate consultations with key stakeholders in the drugs field. It is nice to have a slogan, "Tough on drugs", but the effect of any legislative measures must make a real difference where drugs and the stability of our community are concerned.

Photo of Lord Adebowale Lord Adebowale Crossbench 7:30 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I declare an interest as chief executive of Turning Point, a social care organisation that works with approximately 120,000 people a year. We see 70,000 people with substance misuse challenges, 30,000 young people aged between 16 and 25 and significant numbers of people with mental health and substance misuse challenges. Your Lordships will forgive me if my comments range across substance misuse and mental health issues, but they do come into the debate somewhat.

I thank the Minister for her remarks about Turning Point's report on khat. It is an issue that has been of great concern to me personally, having lived in the East End and seen the effects of khat on the Somali community and others. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for her complimentary comments—I think that they were complimentary anyway—and for her views on khat.

The research on khat use found that a drug used socially and without a great deal of effect in Somalia and other countries becomes problematic for many ethnic communities in this country when combined with unemployment, social exclusion and other factors such as discrimination and poverty. That is an important factor that should not be forgotten in the debate about classification and legal structures, to which I shall refer later.

It becomes a problem particularly for heads of families. Previously, they used khat for an hour after work; now they are unemployed and unable to find work, and they use khat throughout the day and often late into the night. Its use by young people is clearly unacceptable in communities in Somalia but is increasingly common among those communities in the UK. I will happily make the report available to all Members of the House.

Although it may seem to be an answer to classify khat as a class A drug—the immediate response is it is dangerous so why not give it a class A classification—I am not sure that arresting the head of a Somali family already stricken by poverty and discrimination and placing him in the middle of the criminal justice system will help. The thrust of Turning Point's research and report was to ensure that governments provided appropriate treatments for such communities and looked at the context in which khat was abused as well as at the drug itself.

It should be fairly obvious to most people that classification is not the answer. By all means let us attack those who seek to corrupt communities and our young people. It is hard to argue with a drugs Bill that seeks to protect children—there is nothing wrong with that—although the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, warrant further consideration. If we are going to protect children, let us make that protection comprehensive, effective and more than a gesture to concern and emotion—although when people talk about drugs, emotion and hyperbole are often evident.

Perhaps I may place a few thoughts before your Lordships without going through the Bill in great detail. The Government's Drugs Bill outlines a raft of new criminal justice legislation on drugs. It is clearly the case that the criminal justice system has a role to play in reducing drug-related crime and getting drug users into treatment. Turning Point's services are doing just that. Together with other colleague organisations, we are delivering the objectives of the Government's drug policy every day as part of our daily work.

There is much on which we should congratulate the Government in their approach to drugs and their determination to root out the evil people who have no respect for members of the community. Both Turning Point and Drugscope were keen to produce a response to the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, referred to Justice, but it was not the only organisation to produce a fast response to the Bill. We were out there and, should anyone think we have been slow on the uptake, our advice is available.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Spokespersons In the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, as I said, I regret to say that the briefing from Justice was the only one received by my Front Bench. I am not aware of any of my colleagues receiving other briefings. I did not chase up the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, because I appreciated that we would have the benefit of his advice today. However, it is disturbing.

I do not blame any organisation for not getting its briefing out to noble Lords. I believe that organisations simply were caught out on timing and considered that at this stage of the game the Bill would not be going anywhere. I had no intention of criticising organisations for not getting briefings to us.

Photo of Lord Adebowale Lord Adebowale Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention, and I take her point. However, there is available a joint briefing on the Bill produced by both Turning Point and Drugscope. I shall refer to some of the points contained in it.

A report produced by Turning Point looks at the routes into treatment and expresses the concern that there is an increasing emphasis on criminal justice responses to illegal drug misuse. That may have some rather perverse effects on treatment and its availability and the incentives to get into treatment for the very people we seek to help. The key priority for any government should be to focus on making treatment more effective, rather than just creating new offences aimed at getting people into treatment in the first place.

It is critical that the right people are placed on the right programmes at the right time. It is a difficult challenge but it is one that I shall continue to push governments to keep in mind. It is easy, in a sense, to make law; the difficulty is to keep people in treatment. It is worth reminding the House that the Audit Commission's recent report estimates that 34 per cent of drug users who leave treatment drop out in the first 12 weeks. According to the National Audit Office, of those offenders who received a community sentence in 2003—this was referred to in previous contributions—only 28 per cent completed the programme.

The challenge for organisations involved in the delivery of drug treatments is to improve those statistics and those outcomes. The question that I wish to put to the Government is: how does the Bill help to achieve those improvements specifically? I am not sure how the proposed measures in the Drugs Bill will lead to an improvement in the success rate of referrals into treatment or to a reduction in drop-out rates on community sentences. A key challenge for the Government must be to re-examine the structure, design and delivery of community sentences.

There are three specific provisions proposed in the Drugs Bill about which Turning Point and Drugscope have reservations. In regard to drug testing at arrest, it is felt that the emphasis has been placed at the wrong point in the pathway in order to provide what is hoped might be a quick-fix solution. It may be that the focus should have been on strengthening existing voluntary schemes, such as arrest referral, rather than creating a new criminal offence with drug testing at arrest.

We need to work towards a national arrest referral service that is user-focused and consistently applied across the country, drawing upon best practice, knowledge of what works and simple changes such as the provision of pre-booked appointments for treatment, accompanying clients to appointments and assertive outreach. Many such measures are more effective ways of actively getting people to attend voluntarily and engage in drug treatment for longer. The measures should be available to all drug users, not only a few. They may not sound as macho as longer sentences or greater punishment, but they have proven to be effective. That is the point.

Secondly, I should like to comment briefly on proposals to create a new offence through a presumption of intent to supply when a person possesses a particular amount of controlled drugs. There are practical difficulties in setting a precise figure for the amount of drugs possessed to constitute the new offence. I also question whether it would help in targeting dealers, as many would systematically exploit the new offence by ensuring that the amount of drugs held by them at any one time was conveniently below such an amount. We must remember the incentive that many dealers have to meet changes in law with equally devious changes in practice. So I doubt whether the measure will be successful in targeting the dealers who cause most harm.

I also have some reluctance in supporting the new offence that elevates quantity of possession in isolation from other factors such as the variety of drugs found, evidence that the drugs were prepared for sale, evidence of large amounts of money in the possession of the defendant or evidence from documentation such as recorded transactions.

Finally, I want to comment on provisions giving a court the power to supplement an anti-social behaviour order with an intervention order. Initially, the new order will address only drug-taking behaviour. I agree that some people behave anti-socially because they misuse drugs and/or alcohol. Getting the right interface between anti-social behaviour and treatment is critical. Access to effective forms of treatment is essential to enable people to sustain a change in their behaviour. We should not forget that people who are labelled anti-social often have a high level of vulnerability and a range of complex needs. That means working with people to meet their support needs and tackling and changing the causes of their behaviour.

I have considerable concerns about how the interface between anti-social behaviour orders and intervention orders will operate in practice as a tool in addressing behaviour. The Bill does not define appropriate activities, who will be responsible for deciding what amounts to an appropriate response to the trigger behaviour or who will provide or supervise the appropriate activities. It is crucial that we begin to tackle the long-term causes underlying anti-social behaviour and focus our energies on a range of support, from drug prevention and early intervention to prevent drug use becoming problematic and a nuisance and entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

In looking at young people's drug use, I should like to comment on some of the points raised about cannabis, given the Home Secretary's decision to review its classification, the intense media speculation and the fact that it was debated so intensely in the other place. The current situation in the UK regarding cannabis reveals a confused vision of reality. The legal acrobatics that the Government have performed over cannabis may be questionable. They resisted classification when the excellent Runciman report was published. They reclassified when the popular mood seemed to change but applied a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment for supplying the drug, despite other class C drugs carrying a five-year maximum.

If new evidence emerges to show that cannabis is more harmful than thought, it will have to be considered carefully. Fifteen months on from the reclassification, I am not convinced that there is enough new scientific evidence to warrant a review. When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended reclassification, it fully considered the evidence that cannabis can trigger mental health problems, which I shall come to shortly. I should also make it clear that the views expressed today are my own, rather than those of the ACMD, of which I am just one member. There are 36 members of the ACMD, and I shall not try too hard to persuade the other 35, who are very learned pharmacologists, of my view.

I am surprised that the Government are asking for a review so soon after reclassification. Available evidence suggests that cannabis usage among young people has remained stable since reclassification. That might not feature greatly in the headlines in the tabloid press, but there is evidence that it has even fallen among 11 to 15 year-olds. A new study by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit in the UK has found that the increase in regular use fell to 0.5 per cent in 2004, compared with 45 per cent at its peak in 1998. Reclassification has not led to a sudden leap in use, as was predicted. Those are the facts.

If we are concerned about the impact of cannabis use on mental and physical health, why should its classification be the main focus of the debate? Surely, hauling young people before the courts as a result of their cannabis use cannot be seen as reasonable treatment. Indeed, in spite of reclassification, we forget that in this country cannabis still attracts one of the highest penalties compared with the rest of Europe—two years for possession and 14 years for trafficking. I am not sure that a more punitive law, as a result of reclassification, will help young people or people who suffer from schizophrenia and may be self-medicating in their use of cannabis, to receive treatment.

We need to be aware of all the facts and to encourage intelligent discussion. Cannabis is a drug that can have detrimental effects, particularly on those who are especially vulnerable to mental illness. But when cannabis is compared with other drugs against criteria such as mortality, toxicity, addictiveness and its relationship with crime, it is less harmful to the individual and society. That is why it is a class C drug. I think that that is understood by the public and by many young people.

The evidence of the drug's long-term effect on mental health is not so clear cut. No doubt we can find professors on either side of the argument who will say that smoking cannabis causes schizophrenia, and in recent days it appears that the media have done just that. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs considered such research in depth during its deliberations, but concluded that no clear causal link had been demonstrated. However, the council was clear, as was mentioned earlier, that cannabis use unquestionably can worsen an existing condition of schizophrenia.

It is true that cannabis may exacerbate mental health problems in people with a pre-existing mental illness. But so will poverty, so will worklessness and so will social exclusion. Cannabis is easy to blame, but cannabis alone is not to blame.

Any review of the evidence must be led by fact and not fuelled by misconceptions or existing prejudices. In particular, the current media portrayal raises real fears around the impact on those from black and minority ethnic—BME—backgrounds. It is shameful that stereotypes still influence the diagnosis and treatment that black people receive, leading to lack of access to appropriate assessment, treatment and care. All too often, disproportionate numbers of black people are given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and treatment is disproportionately likely to rely on medication and constraint. The growing stereotype of cannabis psychosis, partly fuelled by the media, could exacerbate this state of affairs still further. African or Caribbean people with mental health problems may find themselves labelled with cannabis-induced psychosis, with very little evidence for such a diagnosis. I am not saying that there are no links between mental health and cannabis use, simply that when the reality of those links becomes distorted to the point of stereotype, it can have real and damaging consequences for those who need support, and in this case, BME groups in particular.

No, the recent debate does not reflect the reality of cannabis misuse in the UK, and that is why I believe that we need a sophisticated and credible approach to this drug. We need to get the message right and get across the facts in a way that is accurate, non-confrontational and relevant to young people's lives. The FRANK campaign started to do this and I would like to see further development of that intervention. Most young people know that cannabis is legal and can be harmful, but we need a much greater focus on drug treatment, education and prevention.

Finally, I am also doubtful—and I think we should be very doubtful—that cannabis is the gateway drug, an often repeated idea. There is more evidence that shows that alcohol and cigarettes act more frequently as gateway drugs in comparison with cannabis. Indeed, when I talk to many of the people whom Turning Point sees each year, they talk not about cannabis, when one examines their drug history, but about going to the pub, having a drink, having their inhibitions relaxed and then being introduced to cannabis. If we are going to talk about gateway drugs, let us talk about all the gateway drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes. In any event, it is not the use of the drug that encourages people to move to harder drugs but the existence of a single drugs black market.

It is concerning that the Government's own schools inspectorate criticised the level and standard of drug education in some schools. I want to see that reversed and much more attention paid to it. So I suggest that we move on from the debate on cannabis reclassification to concentrate on practical responses to drug misuse. To reclassify or not to reclassify should not be the question. Instead, we need to redouble our efforts on communicating the real evidence-based harm of cannabis and the known impact on health through a targeted and significant public health campaign.

Our approach to substance misuse should include the criminal justice system. Equally, it should include an assertive and effective treatment programme in the community.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative 7:49 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I will refrain from asking what we are doing debating the Second Reading of a Bill at this stage in the life of a Parliament. To debate a Bill that is going nowhere is a waste of parliamentary time, and if this Bill has a future it will be without any scrutiny; and if ever there were a Bill that needed scrutiny, this is it.

I have long held the view that any policy issue on which the two main political parties are in broad agreement—there are not many—needs to be viewed with the utmost suspicion. What to do about drugs is one of those policies. Governments of both hues have followed the same basic policy in respect of what we now call the drug problem for over 30 years and in particular since the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs Act in the early 1970s.

Indeed, the Government's first policy document, produced by the shortly to be banished drug tsar, was a continuation of the policy introduced by my right honourable friend Michael Howard, when he was Home Secretary under John Major. That drug strategy document contained a number of targets by which we in Parliament, and the British people at large, could measure the Government's performance.

In the revised drug strategy, published by Mr David Blunkett, shortly before his high moral stance catapulted him out of the Home Office, sensibly omitted those targets. It was sensible because virtually none of them had been reached, or showed the slightest chance of being met, apart from a few marginal matters. The reason for that is very simple—I am not making a party-political point. It is because the central plank of this Government's drug policy—like that of all those governments before—is completely rotten. It has not worked, it cannot work, and it will not work.

The policy of prohibiting drugs by use of the criminal law, the foundation of which is the Misuse of Drugs Act—is entirely understandable and indeed laudable in the context of the 1970s. But 30 years later we can see that it is a colossally expensive and unbelievably destructive failure. The sole purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act was to reduce and eventually eliminate drug use by means of prohibition and the criminal law, but it has not exactly been an overwhelming success, has it?

Year on year, since then, we have seen drug use and the harm associated with it, rise, inexorably, to a level that nobody in their worst nightmares could have imagined in the 1970s. More than that, with the exception of the occasional small hiccup in the graph—which might or might not be the stabilisation in opiate use mentioned by the Minister—overall there has been no drop in the use at all; in fact the increase shows no real sign of decelerating.

Home Office commissioned research from the University of York a couple of years ago put the cost to the UK taxpayer of drug misuse at £12 billion to £18 billion per year and 80 per cent of that amount is the cost of crime and the criminal justice system: from which we derive no benefit whatever. This Bill, in the dying days of the Parliament, does nothing except hold out the prospect of a further increase in that cost, without any real hope of a benefit. It is a further, deeply unpleasant compromise of the criminal justice system, in the hope of demonstrating a greater commitment to being tough on drugs.

It seeks subliminally to persuade us that the police and customs services, the courts and the prisons, have not really being trying for the past 30 years, and that one more tiny adjustment, one more civil liberty chucked on the scrap-heap, will suddenly make all the difference. The day that this little Bill is enacted, all those junkies will simply throw up their hands and cease their filthy habits and the sun will shine on a drug free world. That will not happen. In practice, the criminal justice interventions that are proposed in this Bill have been shown to have a very limited effect. The Government's arguments in relation to the deterrent effects in reducing availability are not supported by evidence.

Some of your Lordships may recall that I have an interest in this subject. I have been chairman of the Addiction Recovery Foundation for 15 years, chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation for almost 10 years and chairman of Mentor UK, which is the leading drug prevention organisation in this country, for nearly six years. I have also had the honour of being for almost 13 years vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs Misuse. It is amazing that they still keep me on. However, in my experience there has been little consultation with the individuals and organisations that I have worked with and know and which work closest with drug addicts and relevant offenders across the country. There is virtually no support for the Bill except from those organisations that have a direct interest in promoting the existing policy.

I will say a little about the human rights aspect of the Bill and in particular draw your Lordships' attention, as have other noble Lords, to the Select Committee's Seventh Report, and ask your Lordships to reflect carefully on whether the Bill's dubious benefits justify reversing the burden of proof, risking the fairness of trials and ignoring the respect that we are meant to have for private life. I have my doubts. Of course, others may disagree, but, either way, these are the issues that should be carefully debated in the Committee stage, which I suppose this Bill cannot have.

I must, too, draw your Lordships' attention to the Select Committee's comments about the "inadequacy" of the Bill's Explanatory Notes. The report states:

"This does not inspire confidence that human rights compatibility has been a matter of central concern in the formulation of the policy or the drafting of the Bill".

That is a pretty damning comment from a Select Committee.

Putting aside the overall objectives of the Bill, there are within it a number of specific measures which, apart from the fact that they are unlikely to have any major positive effect on Britain's worsening drug problem, will cause a great deal of harm to individual drug addicts, who are among the most vulnerable and socially excluded people in society—they are ill people in need of healthcare receiving the sort of treatment that would not be acceptable if meted out to healthy members of society. If we were to have a Committee stage, I would also want to look closely at those aspects of the Bill.

Lastly, I would draw the House's attention to the Government's proposal to place what are commonly known as magic mushrooms in class A alongside heroin and cocaine, under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Magic mushrooms have been around since time immemorial, and have varied in popularity since the 1960s. They have a mildly hallucinogenic effect on users—not, as the Minister said, anything equivalent to LSD. That may or may not be desirable, depending on your point of view, and my view is that it is not desirable. What matters, however, is that they are neither physically nor psychologically addictive, cause negligible side effects and, unlike what the Minister said, cause virtually no harm. There is no evidence of harm and there is no evidence of their causing any public order problems. In those circumstances, to make the possession of wild mushrooms; that grow throughout the United Kingdom, do little discernible harm, and are currently legitimately retailed through hundreds of shops and across Europe a criminal offence equivalent to heroin is really the most disproportionate suggestion in a badly thought-out, badly drafted Bill. My noble friend on the Front Bench called it sensible but I cannot agree.

I could say a great deal more about many aspects of the detail of this Bill, but I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said in relation to cannabis. The debate on that has got completely out of proportion partly because of the Government's mishandling of the reclassification process, which was correct but was so mishandled that it has caused the problem and has given ammunition to a deeply irresponsible press. That is where we are, but we need not go into that night. I have probably said enough.

I would not dream of dividing the House on Second Reading, but I look forward to the early demise of this Bill, and I trust that the Government will not waste your Lordships' time with this kind of proposal again. Politicians in this country are too keen on telling us all how tough they are on drugs. When I go around the country and talk to school teachers, people who work in the field of drug misuse and, most of all, parents, I find that they are not interested in people who are tough on drugs. They merely want an effective government. I look forward to that too because we do not have that at the moment.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench 7:59 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I wish to concern myself with just three aspects of the Bill. The first is Clause 1, which deals with the aggravated supply of controlled drugs and inserts a new Clause 4A into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The proposed aggravating factors are, as we have already heard, that the supposed offence was committed on or in the vicinity of school premises or that the offender used a courier who was under the age of 18 or a third party to transport cash.

Although those may seem logical, it is already the case that sentencing judges can and do take aggravating circumstances into account during sentencing, and guidelines already exist to assist this process, as the Minister said. I therefore wonder why, in these circumstances, the proposed legislation is really necessary.

The second and more serious aspect relates to Clause 2 and the proof of intention to supply a controlled drug. This clause amends Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 creating a presumption of intent to supply where the sole criterion is that the defendant is found to be in possession of a quantity of a controlled drug which exceeds a specific quantity that is to be arbitrarily fixed by Home Office regulation. This has the serious effect of reversing the burden of proof, so that the onus is now on the defendant to establish that he or she is not a dealer. It seems to me that this clearly undermines the fundamental principle of human rights that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

The result of implementing this legislation would be an increase in wrongful convictions of individuals guilty of nothing more than possession for personal use of an amount of a controlled drug that exceeds the arbitrary limit set by the Home Office.

The third aspect of the Bill that I wish to address is also the most controversial. It is Clause 21 which proposes to classify so-called "magic mushrooms" as class A drugs. As I have stated in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion, I am one of those who believe that current prohibition policies are contrary to common sense. I echo the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in this area. I believe that drug usage should be decriminalised and subjected to regulation, quality control and taxation, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco.

The point at issue is to what extent do any government have the right in a free society to interfere in the personal choices of individual citizens and, with the excuse of protecting their health for their own good, to impose criminal sanctions on anyone who disobeys the rules?

In their recent White Paper entitled Smoking Kills, the Government state that they are,

"determined not to infringe upon people's rights to make free and informed choices".

The classification of magic mushrooms as class A drugs would fly in the face of that commitment.

A government have every right and indeed a duty to educate and warn the public of the risks and potential dangers to health of all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Indeed, the campaign against smoking in recent years is a good example of what can be achieved by publicising potential harm to health. But thereafter a government's concern and use of the criminal justice system should be the prevention of harm to others. Drug or alcohol addiction in itself is a sickness requiring treatment. It should be criminal only when an addict resorts to harming others to sustain his supply.

Magic mushrooms grow wild all over England. Will the owners of farmland, gardens and public parks become criminals for possessing class A drugs? The prospect is absurd. What about other substances that are damaging to health? Sugar and chocolates in excess are harmful. Beef burgers and chips can lead to chronic obesity. Should these substances also be made illegal?

The classification of magic mushrooms as a class A drug will merely force the trade under ground and into the hands of professional criminals and will further increase the burden on the already overstretched criminal justice system. I hope very much that this clause can be dropped from the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 8:03 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, we on these Benches will indeed use the opportunity to wind up although I hope that I will not burden noble Lords too long with my remarks and shall be exceedingly brief.

As my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, have pointed out in their compelling references to the harm inflicted by drugs, we too believe that this Bill addresses serious social concerns and therefore broadly welcome it.

As regards the issues around young people, I myself am a parent of a child in an inner-city school, and although my child is still at primary school, we, and many other parents and teachers worry about an increasing trend towards drug supply around the school. We also know that we will have to be far more vigilant when we come to this issue in secondary school. There is almost a sense of "Here but for the grace of God we go" in terms of the ongoing trend of abuse over years and decades. We do have some concern, however, whether Clause 1 adequately addresses these issues. As Justice has pointed out in its briefing on this Bill, the provisions would not cover cases where children had been employed in the preparation or wrapping of drugs, or where they were sold drugs in premises such as youth clubs or their homes. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has already touched on that. Were this Bill to go any further, we would take up that matter in Committee.

I will now address myself to some of the issues that arise with respect to human rights—the Minister will recall that I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and would not expect me to do otherwise. Many of these issues have already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Dholakia and by the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold, but they bear repeating very briefly. Clause 2 raises concerns regarding the "reverse burden provision". The implication of this is that if it is proved that the accused is in possession of an amount of the drug which is greater than the amount prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State, the court or jury must assume that he intended to supply the drug. While we accept that the Bill allows for exceptions to this where evidence is adduced to the contrary, we nevertheless wonder why the Secretary of State has felt it necessary to introduce this reverse burden provision. Since we do not know what the prescribed amount of possession of the drug is, we cannot know what the amount will be which will trigger this statutory assumption. Hence we cannot know, in scrutinising this Bill, whether this engages Article 6(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the presumption of innocence. The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, has spoken eloquently on this and we echo his concerns.

At Part 2 we welcome the introduction of the requirement that intimate searches for drugs may be undertaken when the person to be searched has consented. This is a welcome improvement on the current situation, and enhances human rights.

However, the provisions in the Bill at Part 2 for the drawing of adverse inferences from a refusal to consent to an intimate search or an X-ray or ultrasound scan may well go in the other direction and raise questions with regard to the right to a fair trial—Article 6(1) of the European Convention. The JCHR in its report on this Bill suggests that courts, when deciding whether there is a breach of Article 6, will take into consideration what safeguards are in place to ensure that the person is fully aware of the consequences of staying silent and that excessive weight is not placed on that silence by the court or the jury. We wonder whether the Minister can tell us in her response about those concerns and about what safeguards the Government intend to put in place in this regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, touched on the issue of carrying out X-rays and ultrasound scans on pregnant women or on those who may have other medical conditions for which the scans could be harmful. There is also the issue of the ethics of imparting medical treatment without the consent of the person to be treated. We see contradictions in the government approach regarding Part 3. The principle is introduced in Part 2 that consent must be given for certain actions. In Part 3, that is taken away. Hence, the accused is forced under threat of criminal sanction to undergo treatment. That raises Article 6 issues of the right to a free trial. We do not question the motives of the Government in this regard, and we appreciate that the intention of the Government is to try to get more drug users to undertake treatment. However, looking at the Government's own statistics in this area, one gets the impression that there is no need for criminal sanction for people to undertake treatment. The Minister has reiterated tonight that an increased number of people are taking up treatment—she said it was 54 per cent more than a few years ago. If that is correct we welcome it, and we exhort the Government to pursue those sorts of approaches rather than criminalising citizens who have not been charged with an offence.

Then we have the issues of compulsory testing on arrest, compulsory assessment of misuse, and intervention orders, which all engage the right to respect for private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Other issues have been raised, including the possibility of classifying khat, about which I know quite a bit having lived in the Middle East. I remind noble Lords that the Yemeni community, in addition to the Somali community, uses that drug extensively. The classification of cannabis and magic mushrooms has been raised, which needs to be looked at.

We have maintained here and in the other place that we have no doubt that drugs are a serious and growing problem in society. The last time an overarching, joined-up assessment was undertaken of the problem and how to deal with it, was in the context of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It has now been 34 years since that legislation, and a new generation of people's lives have been affected by this problem; yet we are just tinkering with the system. Is it not time to take a long, non-partisan look at what needs to be done?

While we support the Bill, we do so in the hope that if the Government are re-elected they will take a fresh look at the many issues involved, undertake meaningful consultation and carry out a comprehensive, overall review of drugs policy.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 8:11 pm, 4th April 2005

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I say immediately to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that I wish to associate myself entirely with the comments that she made at the end of her speech in the plaudits that she rightly gave to all of those who work so hard in the rehabilitation of those who have been addicted and therefore ruined by the abuse of illicit drugs.

I understand the concern that has been expressed, most particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold. I know that there are those who take a perfectly legitimate and proper view that the decriminalisation of all classified drugs would be the better course to take. I understand the arguments that they powerfully make in support of that contention, but each noble Lord will know that that view cannot be concurred with by Her Majesty's Government, for the reasons that I gave in opening and because of the nature of the consequences of so doing. I say to both noble Lords that this attempt by the Government does not fail to take into account the pernicious nature of drug abuse and the need for treatment; it is the reverse. It is the Government making clear that we fully understand that drug misuse is a health issue as well as a criminal issue. The thrust of the Bill is to try to address the demarcation between the two, so that those who are so sorely in need of treatment are better able to get it at an earlier stage, when intervention may be the most effective way of guaranteeing it.

I shall now address the specific issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, supported so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. Each of them raised issues about how Clause 1 would work. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked with her usual care why we did not have an aggravated offence. We have been clear that the jury are the determiners of facts, such as where the defendant was and whether the matters complained of against him have been made out in terms of quantity of drugs, location and transactions.

However, in relation to the sentencing, it is the proper role of the judge to say whether those matters were aggravating features, having taken them all into account. Additional matters may have to be borne in mind. The group attacked or targeted may have been a vulnerable group, so you have the element of vulnerability with that of location and the nature of the past-offending pattern of behaviour. The court will have to determine how far to go with treatment, punishment by way of detention, and rehabilitation. All those factors will be properly within the judge's purview. The better course would be, having set the template before the judge in an appropriate way, to allow the judge to exercise that discretion.

The noble Baroness and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, turned to Clause 2. Why have a presumption? I want to be clear that it is an evidential presumption. It is not a change in the burden of proof. The presumptions are rebuttable, but all other factors can be taken into account. Noble Lords will know that, on many occasions, it is asserted on behalf of a defendant that substantial quantities of drugs were in his possession for personal use. It is amazing on occasion what quantity of drugs can be purported to be available for personal use.

The classification that we propose has the help of the medical services, which are able to judge—drug by drug—an appropriate benchmark. As noble Lords will know, each drug will differ, so it would be unsafe and unsatisfactory to prescribe a limit that would apply to all and implement it in terms of legislation. I hope that I made it clear in opening that, before the drugs are so identified, the Government will seek the advice of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. The level that will give rise to the presumption will vary from drug to drug. It will be prescribed in the regulations approved by a resolution of both Houses. The Secretary of State will consult, and your Lordships can be sure that he will give great weight to the advice that he gets from the advisory council. The evidential presumption of intent where the defendant is found to be in possession of a particular amount of controlled drugs is no more than that.

I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cobbold, know full well that Clause 21 clarifies the law on magic mushrooms. It does not necessarily reclassify magic mushrooms as class A drugs. Noble Lords will be familiar with the debate that has gone on for a long time about dried and fresh magic mushrooms, and why one is bad and the other one is not. That part of the Bill clarifies the position and, if I may respectfully suggest it, makes a little more sense of it than was so before. The Bill makes an important contribution.

Issues troubled noble Lords about the nature and content of the examinations that would be brought about—the sensitivity that would be needed in terms of the cultural issues. I assure them that we are conscious of that importance. It does not mean that all such refusals will immediately be seen as culpable. What is important is lack of good cause. If there is good cause for refusal, no offence will be committed. It will be a question of fact. Those matters will be important to remember.

We have had much discussion about the use of cannabis and whether reclassification was or was not right. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and others that the work that has been undertaken to inform young people better, particularly in relation to the FRANK campaign, will continue. It is important that we continue to look at the empirical evidence that we have available in relation to this and every drug, because the development of our policy must be founded on fact, not hyperbole or rhetoric. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, for his kind compliments in relation to the efforts that have been made by the Government to refocus drug policy.

I should also reassure the noble Baroness that the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, in terms of the use of cannabis were correct. Cannabis use among young people is not rising. The Schools Survey of 2004 shows that the use of cannabis by 11 to 15 year-olds has fallen from 13 per cent in 2003 to 11 per cent in 2004. The British Crime Survey shows slow but steady decline in the use of cannabis by 16 to 24 year-olds. In 1998 it was 28.2 per cent and has fallen to 24.8 per cent.

Of course we need to do more, but it is not the case that this is a problem that is going up and up. So we must be responsible in the way that we look at this matter and it is right, notwithstanding the fact that it was only recently referred back to be looked at again, for us to look forward to the November indication of whether the classification that we made was correct.

Other issues include residential rehabilitation, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She well knows that this is only one type of treatment. Not all of those rehabilitating from drugs will need rehabilitation in a residential setting, but it is necessary for those who are most amenable to it and to whom it will best apply. In relation to Article 6, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, I hope that the comments that I have already made in relation to the rebuttable presumption have answered her points.

I shall now deal with some of the other issues that were rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, on the importance of concentrating on rehabilitation. The Government agree with him that it is important. Protecting the health and welfare of the British public is central to the Government's thinking. Taking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, legalisation of currently illegal drugs would run counter to the Government's health and education messages as well as to the aims that they seek to achieve by their drug strategy. It would not eliminate the need for prevention, treatment, education, information, advice and harm minimisation—all matters that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and which have significant and ongoing costs attached to them.

Legalisation could be expected to attract substantial commercialisation. Legitimate businesses would endeavour to encourage demand for their products in their quest to maximise profit. There would be no reduction in drug-related crime and there would remain an illicit market. So I hope that noble Lords would accept that a regulated market through controlled outlets would not, we would respectfully suggest, eliminate illicit supplies, as alcohol and tobacco smuggling amply demonstrate.

The Government's reaction in relation to testing is an important addition. It has been suggested, including by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, that we should strengthen existing voluntary schemes, such as arrest referral, rather than creating what is referred to as a new criminal offence involving drug testing at arrest, and that we should work towards a national arrest referral service which would be user-focused and consistently applied across the country, drawing upon best practice.

I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and the House that we are strengthening the existing voluntary arrangements by putting in more resources and integrating arrest referrals into drug intervention programmes. Arrest referral is a key gateway into the through care and after care provided by the criminal justice integrated teams. Arrest referral and other drug workers work in partnership with, or increasingly as part of, those teams. The voluntary arrangements are already national as they operate in custody suites throughout England and Wales and are available to all drug misusers following arrest.

Our current statement of expectations makes clear that the examples of good practice, which I know have been cited by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, today and at other times, should be in place to develop nationally along with many other examples in order to engage individuals in treatment most effectively. Therefore, drug testing on arrest is not a new criminal offence. Rather, Clause 7 provides a power to request an arrestee to provide a sample. The arrestee will commit an offence only if he refuses to provide such a sample without good cause. The introduction of testing at an earlier stage in the process, combined with the requirement to attend an initial and possibly follow-up assessment following a positive test, aims to increase the proportion of those testing positive who attend an assessment. This is the key step towards engaging in the treatment and support, which I know the noble Lord recognises as being essential to changing behaviour and sustaining that presumption.

I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to ASBOs. We understand the interconnection between those issues; the importance of identifying the needs of young people; obtaining for them the help and support to divert them from crime and anti-social behaviour; making sure that there is early intervention in relation to drug treatment; and that the treatment is a more useful tool than incarceration or other forms of intervention, unless the behaviour means that it can be dealt with in no other way.

I wish that we had a little more time because I want to say a little more about how the changes we have in the criminal justice system have helped the better co-ordination. We have created the national criminal justice boards, the local criminal justice boards and the crime and reduction partnerships, and we are the working together with Connexions, non-governmental organisations and drug treatment teams. All that partnership working means that we have created better integration in dealing with children and young people in particular, but also vulnerable young adults who are so often the victims of drugs and drug misuse.

These issues are complex and the Bill is a helpful addition to all those other steps. It is not a panacea. I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that we do not believe that it will fix all. However it will be a helpful contribution in ensuring that the focus is on the helpful treatment, assistance, advice and intervention for those who are addicted to drugs while maintaining a sufficiently and significantly robust line on those who want to take advantage of vulnerability by peddling what I know all noble Lords believe to be pernicious and soul-destroying drugs which limit the humanity which people are thereby able to express. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.

The first Written Statement was submitted on Thursday 24 March but was received too late for printing in the Official Report]