Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014 — Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 6:09 pm on 12th May 2014.

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Votes in this debate

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

That the draft order laid before the House on 31 October 2013 be approved.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Considered in Grand Committee on 31 March.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:16 pm, 12th May 2014

My Lords, the Government seek to control khat as a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to protect the public from the potential harms associated with this drug and the threat posed from its international trafficking.

Through the second draft order laid by the Ministry of Justice, the Government are seeking to extend the use of penalty notices for disorder—PNDs—to the offence of simple possession of khat, when it is the second time that the offence has been committed. By a negative instrument, the financial penalty for the khat PND will be set at £60. On the first occasion that an offence has been committed, a person is likely to be issued with a non-statutory “khat warning”. Anyone caught possessing khat for the third time or more will face arrest. This reflects the policing strategy for khat possession cases agreed with the national policing lead for drugs. Both draft orders were considered in Grand Committee on 31 March. The House will be aware that both draft orders have been approved in the House of Commons. I commend the two orders to the House.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

At end to insert “but that this House regrets that Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for the introduction of the Order do not include provisions for a 12-month review of the impact of the reclassification of khat in view of the highly unusual community focus of its use, for putting a detailed policing strategy in place before a ban takes effect, or for a health strategy to prevent a transfer of addiction to other substances; and do not commit the Department for International Development to do more work with the government of Kenya to alleviate the effect of the reclassification on the Kenyan economy.”

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I shall explain why we have brought this amendment before the House today.

It is around six weeks since we discussed this issue in Grand Committee. I thank the noble Lord for asking to meet me prior to this debate and for the discussion we had on the issue during the Recess. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, responded for the Government. He agreed that this was a finely balanced decision. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the ACMD, does not advise that the drug should be banned, due to a lack of robust evidence. In fact, it considers it to be,

“a much less potent stimulant than other commonly used drugs”.

As I identified in Grand Committee, successive Governments have considered whether khat should be banned, but the evidence has not been clear or strong enough previously to support such a ban. It is clear from the evidence base in the Explanatory Memorandum and the Government’s assessment of the options that the decision remains a finely balanced one. One of the new considerations is the impact of the ban by other European countries.

Having considered the evidence, we accept that the benefits of a ban could outweigh the risks. However, as I stated previously, there are a number of assurances needed from the Government before that is clear. When we debated this in Committee and sought assurances from the Government, we did not do so unexpectedly. My colleague in the other place, the shadow Home Office Minister, Diana Johnson, had discussions with the Minister who had responsibility for this order. Curiously, this was not the Drugs Minister, Norman Baker, but another Minister, Karen Bradley. She spoke to her regarding our concerns and the conditions we consider to be essential if a ban is to be put in place. These were raised in the debate in Committee in the other place on 31 March and indeed in our own debate on the same day. I had also notified the Minister’s office of our concerns. Both Diana Johnson and I were disappointed with the responses from the Government, so this amendment is another attempt to seek reassurances from the Government on the implementation of such a ban. There are no surprises and no reasons of which I am aware that a full answer to the points we have raised should not be forthcoming.

I do not think I need to repeat the detail of the Committee debate on the harms of the drug or the risks associated with a ban. They are well documented in those debates, the Explanatory Memorandum, the impact assessment and, indeed, the letter from the Home Secretary. We are aware of the social and possible health harms associated with khat and which communities—largely the Somali and Yemeni communities—in the UK are most likely to use the drug. Overall, just 0.2% of the population have used khat but some 50% of Somali males are thought to be users, and up to 10% daily users. We are also aware that it is very difficult to separate the social harms of khat from the wider social issues faced by the Somali community and, to a lesser extent, the Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. We are also aware of significant and strong support from within the Somali community for a ban.

However, it must also be recognised that neither the ACMD nor the Home Office review has been able to isolate khat as the cause of problems or as exacerbating existing social problems. Khat has been linked to health harms including liver toxicity and tooth loss, as well as issues relating to the manner in which it is consumed, and mental health problems in the Somali community. But again, the evidence in relation to physical health is not considered by the ACMD—the committee that advises the Government on the misuse of drugs—as being robust enough to justify a ban.

We must also examine the risks of banning khat. We recognise that in assessing the risks we have to consider the risk of the UK becoming a hub for illegal exports to the US and other EU countries which have already implemented bans. I understand that is a key issue behind the Government’s intention to ban the drug.

In Committee, I asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whether there was any evidence that khat imports into the UK were increasing and that the UK was being used as a base for illegal imports. He was able to advise that there had been a change although I am not 100% clear from the figures how significant that change is. Of course, that is a very reasonable issue for the Government to take into account and clarification of the scale of the problem would be helpful. When looking at the risks, it is relevant for the Government to consider the impact on the criminal justice system and to recognise that the enforcement costs may be high initially.

The Government recognise that there is a significant risk that a ban could damage community relations because khat use is both common and widely accepted within the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. That would mean that banning khat would criminalise an established and accepted social practice.

The amendment would not prevent the ban but, because the impact must be fully understood and handled very carefully, we have identified four areas that are essential to ensure that any ban does not damage community relations and does not lead to khat’s displacement by other drugs, leading to more serious social and health impacts. As the noble Lord is aware, we wish to raise four issues that we think are essential before any ban should proceed.

The first is the review. Particularly because this is a very finely balanced decision, we think that there must be a review after 12 months that looks at the impact of reclassification, including on organised crime as well as community relations. That should include a monitoring framework, as outlined by the Home Affairs Select Committee; it was the second recommendation in its report. I know that the Government already collect some data in relation to drugs but, because khat is unique among drugs in that it is focused in particular communities, specific data need to be collected on community relations. Rather than that just being published as part of the overall publication of statistics and figures on crime, community relations and drug use, there should be a separate review published on khat.

One issue that the Minister very helpfully discussed with me when we met was policing. Because khat is highly prevalent in the Somali and Yemeni communities, the introduction of a ban would allow any Somali or Yemeni male to be subject to stop and search. I know that the Minister recognises that this could have a seriously detrimental effect on community relations, and the Government are bringing in changes to stop and search. Although we discussed this, it would be helpful if the Minister could put on the record how the Government will ensure that this does not undermine the Prevent agenda, which is now being focused on the Somali and Yemeni communities.

One risk that we can particularly identify, because khat is a social drug, is that it is linked to numerous businesses, including cafés and community centres, so policing has to be very sensitive to those risks. To ensure that this happens, we want a specific policing strategy, agreed by the ACPO lead for drugs and the Prevent team. That should be in place before a ban is in force.

I mentioned my meeting with the Minister and his officials. He was able to outline some of the issues regarding policing. I am aware that the Government are giving serious consideration to them. He agreed at that meeting to provide me with details and a copy of the draft guidance currently being considered but I have not yet had it. I know that he would want me to have a copy of that. It would have been helpful for the debate today but, if we could have a copy of that, it would be very helpful.

When we met I also reiterated the need for a programme of engagement and support for the Somali community. There needs to be some kind of education about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. As the advisory committee recognises, the evidence on the harms is not robust enough for a ban and the last thing that I think anybody wants to see is khat being replaced with illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol. That would be a very serious matter and could cause greater health harms. When we discussed this, the Minister was not able to provide me with any further information other than that he was sure that this was ongoing. These programmes will be essential, and if he is able to provide more information today that would be extremely helpful to our considerations.

My final point is on international development, an issue recognised by the Select Committee in the other place. The Department for International Development has to commit to work with the Kenyan Government to alleviate the effect of the khat ban on the Kenyan economy. When we discussed this, the Minister was confident that Kenyan farming was robust enough to diversify. He is more of an expert on farming than I am—I hope that will be the case. The Select Committee identified this as a very serious issue. My understanding is that the department is working with the Kenyan authorities. We need more information on this, as part of the review that should be undertaken and reported on in a year’s time, so that we can understand the work that is ongoing.

These are very real and genuine concerns. As I said, we are not opposing the ban but we really consider that before any ban is implemented these kinds of issues have to be considered and dealt with first. I hope that we will have a positive response from the Minister today. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 12th May 2014

My Lords, I have difficulties with both the substance of the order and the amendment. It seems that we may be in a world of policy-based evidence and an amendment that is being brought to the House because the Opposition are looking for something to object to without objecting to the ban itself. The matters identified in the amendment seem to be good reasons to oppose the ban, but the Opposition support it.

The ACMD not only recommended no change in the status of khat—that it not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act—but set out a number of other recommendations dealing with local needs assessments; education and prevention initiatives; culturally specific and tailored treatment and recovery services; partnership working; addressing the problems through engagement and dialogue with the local community and interagency working; working through community safety partnerships; and regular monitoring and returns. It also made a specific recommendation about data to form the basis of future research. Those would themselves have formed a very good amendment, but that is not what is before us.

The ACMD was quite clear on the merits of the ban. The Secretary of State, on the other hand, seems to be saying—if I can summarise it—that since it is banned in the rest of the EU, it must be banned here. The ban was announced last July. Will the Minister tell the House what evidence there has been of the drug’s use since that announcement? Some time has now gone by. Indeed, it has been banned in the rest of the EU since January of last year, so if there are concerns, some of those might have come to light.

One of the reasons that we are given for the proposed ban is the risk of this country becoming a regional hub or a haven for criminals. I was interested to read some of the characteristics of khat, one of which is that it has a very short life. The active ingredient declines a couple of days after being picked; it needs to be fresh for it to have an effect. I have no doubt that the users of it, as consumers, are as demanding as consumers of most products, so is it a genuine concern that we would become a regional hub, if what might be distributed through the hub has, in fact, lost its efficacy by the time it is traded on?

The risks identified from a ban include the users moving towards more addictive, harmful and expensive substances; a black market; and organised crime stepping in to supply the drug and criminalising—inevitably—the users. I appreciate the proposals about applying an escalator to how offences are dealt with, but we would be criminalising users and suppliers, and we know that one crime leads to another.

Of course, I am aware that the Minister in the Commons and the Home Secretary, in her response to the Home Affairs Select Committee, have presented the matter as finely balanced, and that the communities where use is widespread are divided. Looking at the reports, I have been wondering how broadly women in those communities want a ban and men do not. I wonder whether that is rather simplistic reporting. I find it difficult to believe that a ban would instantly lead to such a considerable behavioural change and make model husbands of former users. I have my doubts about that. There is one view that clearly comes from the Somali community, and that is that they would prefer their children to use khat rather than alcohol or tobacco. The ACMD has reported that the use of khat has been decreasing over recent years.

In the Commons, there was very little discussion—nothing from the Minister, I believe—about the broader issues of drugs policy or the wider context, to which reference has just now been made, of the economy of Kenya and the potential instability and risks associated with that. I would be very wary of banning something of cultural significance, with the risk of driving a wedge between the police and the already quite marginalised communities. The references in the reports to the use of khat at weddings made me think of sugared almonds at weddings in some other traditions and how one might respond to any suggestion that that tradition be changed. In summary, I am not persuaded by the orders, but I am not persuaded by the amendment: I would leave the balance as it is.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment to the decision of Home Secretary to ban khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, although I identify with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in relation to the amendment. There are very good reasons to oppose this ban. I make clear at the outset that if khat presented a serious health risk to users, I would support a ban on the importation and sale of the substance. On the other hand, we now have sufficient evidence to show that banning the possession and use of psychoactive substances—even dangerous ones—is counterproductive. Of course, the excessive use of khat by small groups of Somalis needs to be tackled; the question is how. We know that bans on possession and use delay treatment. They divert resources away from public health and education initiatives and into the criminal justice system. We also know that a criminal record is extremely damaging to anyone’s employment prospects. The criminalisation of these people will therefore tend to lead them to continue with their drug habit or—if they ever get away from it—to return to it. There are very severe and negative consequences of banning, particularly on the consumer side.

That is the evidence framework within which I have thought about the Home Secretary’s decision to ignore the advice of the ACMD and ban not only the supply but the possession and use of khat. This is a most serious decision for the communities involved, people principally from Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia. The small but vociferous group of campaigners from Somalia believe that a ban on khat will get rid of the problems as they perceive them—social problems within families and so on. In reality, those using khat will continue using the substance at a vastly increased price. The Home Affairs Select Committee’s ninth report suggested that a hundredfold increase in price could be expected from a ban on khat. The khat user who continued to use khat would also risk, as I said, a criminal record. The alternative, to which other noble Lords have alluded, is that khat would be replaced by alcohol in particular. We know that alcohol is far more dangerous and would have all sorts all sorts of consequences that khat does not have. Either alternative, therefore, would be much worse than the status quo. I am not suggesting that the status quo is wonderful, but it is nothing like as serious as the possible consequences of a ban. The idea that the household would have more cash to spend on food is, sadly, a delusion. Some women might see their husbands spending £25 on khat and think, “I could do with that to buy some shoes for the kids”, but it is a little more complex than that.

The ACMD had clear, scientific reasons for advising the Home Secretary that,

“the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”.

These are very strong words from the ACMD and, particularly, a council led by Professor Leslie Iversen, whom I know quite well and who is a highly regarded scientist known for his incredible moderation, gentleness and so on. He is not a wild man; if he allows such words to go forward to the Government, we really need to take note.

The two central findings concern the medical and social harms, as others have indicated. The ACMD concludes that khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects, other than a small number of reports of an association between khat use and significant liver toxicity—a small number and an association. In scientific lingo, as we know, “association” simply means that the two things tend to happen alongside each other. There is no indication of a causal link between the use of khat and medical consequences. On the question of anecdotal evidence of social harms, the ACMD concludes that its research into these has found no robust evidence that demonstrates a causal link between khat consumption and any of the harms indicated.

Professor Iversen emphasised in his letter to the Home Secretary that the council’s recommendations were based on a rigorous and systematic process of evidence-gathering and subsequent analysis of what was submitted and presented to it. In other words, as I understand it, the recommendations should not be set aside other than for matters of serious national security or national interest. Now my understanding is that the main reasons for the Home Secretary’s decision have nothing to do with medical and social risks, and are twofold. First, as others mentioned, Sweden and the Netherlands in particular have banned khat and would find it helpful if the UK took the same step in order to avoid this “hub”. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, dealt very effectively with that point, bearing in mind the very short life of the substances within khat that people are interested in.

The other issue raised, which I find utterly peculiar, is that there is some relationship between khat use and terrorism. That is quite remarkable. I will deal with the terrorism issue very quickly. A very small trade in a perfectly legal, low-cost substance in a few BME communities is just not a serious candidate for a terrorist threat or interest. Indeed, the ACMD was not provided with any evidence of al-Shabaab or any other terrorist group’s involvement in the export or sale of khat, despite consultation with the relevant national and international official bodies. I understand that the Home Secretary has claimed that the ACMD would not have been aware of these things. However, it was aware of the people who are aware of them—and consulted them. The fact that the ACMD picked up nothing in this area should be taken seriously. On the other hand, banning a substance such as khat and increasing its value a hundredfold or more really might interest terrorists. Even on that count, this ban could be—and could be expected to be—counterproductive.

The first question one must ask on the hub possibility is whether the bans in these other countries are working. There is apparently no evidence that they are, or that they are even helpful. I would not expect them to be helpful. The idea that we follow other people simply because they want us to seems a little wrong.

I want to put a proposal with respect to khat. The Government introduced temporary-class drug orders for the purpose of controlling new psychoactive substances. I will not go on for very long on this but I want to put it forward. I applaud the Government for their policy. Its great strength is that these TCDOs do not criminalise the possession and use of these drugs while the TCDO remains in place. However, it provides for the ban of production and sale of substances that may prove dangerous. These orders were designed to enable the ACMD to analyse new drugs and determine whether a full ban under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 could be justified. The only possible justification given by the Government and Home Secretary—I emphasise that—for a ban of khat concerns the supply of khat to other European countries or supply involving terrorists, not that that point needs to be taken seriously. An order along the lines of a TCDO, which avoided criminalising users of khat, would fulfil the Government’s objectives while avoiding unnecessary and severe consequences for the BME communities affected.

The 12-month review proposed in the amendment would then evaluate a narrower issue: the supply ban and, for example, the price increase and illegal activity that will inevitably result. The ACMD could do that work, its findings could be put to the Home Secretary and, if the supply ban was seen not to be in the national interest, it could be dropped. If the ACMD recommended education and preventive initiatives, tailored treatments and other social interventions could then be funded instead of that money going into the criminal justice system. There is an awful lot to be said for that approach. The ACMD thought about this very carefully and that is what it came up with.

The above proposition is relevant even at this stage, if I may say so. We know that some 40% of legislation is never implemented. It is surely possible for the Government to implement only the supply side of their ban and defer—I hope indefinitely—the implementation of the ban on possession and use of khat. Such a plan would enable a more focused 12-month review, as I have already mentioned. I hope the Minister will be willing to take this idea away, even at this late stage: a supply ban only could be introduced and then evaluated to see whether it should continue.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour 6:45 pm, 12th May 2014

My Lords, of course, in focusing on a topic such as this, almost everything that could be said has been. My noble friend already included four reasons in her amendment for not going ahead with the reclassification of khat. All four reasons were covered fairly fully by other speakers. There are a number of other cogent reasons why the Government should not go ahead with this proposal. Of course, a lot of them have been spoken to by other speakers as well.

Some of those reasons were stated very clearly in the report of the ACMD—which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, described fully. That was sent to the Home Secretary in January last year and, after that, the Home Affairs Committee reported on this in November. I am not aware that the effects of khat have changed much since those reports were published.

The ACMD says that khat has no causal link to adverse medical effects other than a small number of reports of an association between khat use and significant liver toxicity, which were not of sufficient importance to recommend controlling the substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned that it was an association, not a proven causal link. However, the report from the ACMD also had—as the noble Baroness said—a number of very useful recommendations to health and social care boards regarding khat that central and local government would do well to study and implement.

The main argument put forward by the Home Office for banning khat is that otherwise the UK might become a hub for its distribution—as mentioned by both the preceding speakers. However, if that were likely to happen it would already be occurring, whereas in fact the use of khat in this country—and I assume the importation of khat to this country, too—is falling. I repeat the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee: can the Minister give us any figures about the use and importation of khat in this country? Is there any evidence of the smuggling of khat out of this country to Europe? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that is very difficult because it must be done within two or three days or khat is more or less unsalable.

The most important reason for not going ahead with this order is—as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said—the unintended consequences that will follow. Just to start with, the use of khat will probably not come down any faster than it already is. Banning substances that are widely used has little effect on the level of use. This is a fact that Governments—not only this one—are rather reluctant to accept. Another serious consequence would be—as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said—to criminalise a section of an already poor and marginalised community: the Somalis in Britain and, to a lesser extent, some Kenyan immigrants and Yemenis. Perhaps the most important consequence might be the substitution of khat by more powerful alternatives, as already mentioned, including alcohol and other stimulants such as crack cocaine and other forms of speed—amphetamines or mephedrone. I join with other noble Lords and Baronesses in pleading with the Minister to reconsider the proposal to go ahead with this order for the very good reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, put so cogently.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I welcome this further opportunity to set out the Government’s approach, which allows me to focus, in particular, on the activities to support the successful implementation of the ban on khat. That has lain at the heart of concerns raised by noble Lords, which I take seriously. I am reassured that the points raised in today’s debate are nearly all matters that were taken into account in the early stages of our decision-making when we considered our response to the issues associated with this drug.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked what new figures we had on this drug. The new evidence, including reports from law enforcement agencies, emerged after the ACMD published its report and the Dutch banned khat in January 2013. It pointed to an increase in the volume of khat in transit via the UK to European countries where it is banned. The latest update for the first three months of this year shows that 17 seizures of khat—with a combined net weight of over 11.5 tonnes—originating in the UK, were made in France en route to other countries where it is banned, including Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. This is evidence that this country is becoming a substantial hub for this material.

Before I address the particular concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith—

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister has given helpful figures, but can he give comparative figures on how the situation has changed over time? The premise is that if seizures of illegal imports are up, they must be up against another figure. I made this point in Committee; we had figures but not comparative ones.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not have those figures to hand. I think the noble Baroness will understand that, if this material is arriving here to be distributed to other countries, as I have illustrated, it confirms the view that this country is serving as a distribution hub in a way that would not have happened before those countries banned its use. That is the point which the Government have had to consider. The noble Baroness came to see us and we had a good and useful meeting, talking about issues that concern her. I will address these but I would like to consider the points made by other speakers first.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee wanted to know what the Somali network’s report had to say. An important aspect of this is that, according to testimony given by community leaders and mothers, several areas of a person’s life can be affected by khat use. Disagreements and frustration over drug use can cause family arguments and affect personal relationships; legal and health problems associated with khat use add to the strain on personal, financial and work relationships; and chewers of khat tend to be more inward looking rather than reaching out to others, fuelling further segregation. In other words, it can be anti-social in its impact.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, rang me this morning to advise me that she wanted some assurances on this issue. I cannot give her the assurances that she is seeking but I can, at least, explain the Government’s thinking. She asked what the ACMD thought of our decision to control khat. The ACMD acknowledged the lack of robust evidence on whether khat caused medical or social harm. It understood that the scope of issues that the Government will take into account to make a decision on drug control would go beyond the remit of the committee itself. Before the decision was publicly announced, the Government discussed it with the chairman of ACMD, who accepted that we came to a different view on this occasion, based on consideration of the wider issues beyond those that were the immediate responsibility of ACMD.

The noble Baroness asked about temporary bans. They form part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 but they are very different. Temporary class drug orders were introduced as a swift legislative tool to tackle the fast-paced emergence in the UK of psychoactive substances or so-called “legal highs”. I have debated these with the noble Baroness on other occasions. In essence, they are used where there is an urgent or significant threat to public safety or health. There is often very little evidence of the harm these drugs do, for the simple reason that they have been available only for a matter of months, if not weeks. Under a temporary class drug order, the advisory council has just 20 working days to advise and only looks at medical harms. Temporary bans are the exception, not the rule, and only last for 12 months. Khat is not a new drug where such swift, temporary action is demanded.

The role of advisors is to advise—

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

Does the Minister accept that the whole point about khat is that the ACMD did look at the potential medical and social harms and concluded that they did not justify a ban? The supply-side issues, which Professor Iverson accepts may be slightly beyond the council’s remit, are separate. My point is that, if you accept the ACMD’s conclusions that the medical and social harms are low and would not justify a ban—and it was very clear about that—the case for criminalising possession and use really is not there. Hence there is a value in something akin to a temporary class drug order: I was not suggesting that you literally translate it completely. Does the Minister accept that focusing simply on supply makes sense, in terms of the Home Secretary’s comments and the evidence available?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I cannot accept that. When I spoke to the noble Baroness earlier, I said that I did not think I would be able to give her much comfort. We did not reject the ACMD’s report. As I explained, the ACMD is there to advise on particular aspects but, in the end, Ministers have to make decisions and be prepared to stand by them.

I turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. She has considerable concerns that we have not made proper efforts to prepare affected communities for this ban. I want to reassure her that we have done exactly that. We acknowledge that this is a finely balanced decision that needs careful and extensive preparation at national and local level. Our plans, which have been worked up over a couple of months, are in place and are ready to be rolled out once the draft order completes its parliamentary passage. We are waiting on a decision of the House to approve the order today.

I ask the House to note that, although we took a different view from the ACMD, we took on board its recommendations for locally led health and community-based interventions to meet local khat needs and for monitoring the situation in communities. I know that the noble Baroness would like to have a review after a year. We see it as a matter of continuous review and are specifying that a close eye will be kept on the impact of the ban. In this, we are going beyond the usual approach to the monitoring of newly controlled drugs, to ensure that locally and nationally collected data provide an evolving picture after the ban.

Our policing response must be fair, consistent, proportionate and sensitive to local issues and community relations. We are grateful to the national policing lead on drugs, Chief Constable Andy Bliss, for taking a personal interest in the development of the law enforcement approach to khat and consulting policing leads on counterterrorism, stop and search and out-of-court disposals, which are all aspects that policing has to consider.

Working with the police, we have bespoke national policing guidance with a graduated system for dealing with khat possession cases. I apologise to the noble Baroness if I have not made a copy of that available to her. It is not a Home Office document but a police document. I will seek to secure it for her. In addition, we have a national community impact assessment, informed by 13 high-priority police forces, highlighting the specific issues that require a tailored community policing response. We expect it to be updated following the ban, and this will feed in to our monitoring activity.

The noble Baroness was very mindful of the need to support Somali communities. The Government have introduced reforms that empower local authorities to serve their communities’ needs. Khat is a local issue in many places and is best addressed through commissioning appropriate services tailored to the local community. This approach is in keeping with the advisory council’s findings, which made specific recommendations in this regard.

Public health directors and commissioners of health services will be central in delivering and reviewing our health and prevention response. Khat is now part of Public Health England’s joint strategic needs assessment guidance which analyses the health needs of a local population and informs how health, well-being and social care services are commissioned within local authority areas.

The Government’s drug information service FRANK will support wider prevention work, including online materials, such as the khat fact sheets translated into Arabic, Amharic, Somali and Swahili for use by local organisations.

We know that community leaders and relevant local authorities are ready to act. We have seen case studies of local partnership preparations which set out actions for community engagement and co-ordinated approaches across health, prevention, integration and law enforcement. We will also publish them so that learning can be shared and promoted.

The noble Baroness is right to raise the concern that khat users might replace it with other drugs or alcohol. We have considered this complex question with the Department of Health. The department’s approach will focus on preventive activities, including public health messaging, to alert khat users, specifically dependent and vulnerable users, to the dangers of other drugs and signpost them to support services.

The noble Baroness mentioned the conversation we had about support for Kenya. It is right that our decision to control khat is concerned primarily with the protection of the UK public and with the UK’s ability to reduce the threat posed by the international khat-trafficking trade. Nevertheless we are committed to giving as much notice as possible to our international partners, including Kenya. The UK has a long-standing and constructive relationship with Kenya, a friendly nation. Our engagement includes a programme of aid to development that supports the delivery of independent projects, such as the market access programme, which is working to lift low-income Kenyan households out of poverty through access to high-value markets.

This co-ordinated response is in keeping with our overarching aims: to protect the public and communities from drug harms and to support dependent and vulnerable users into recovery. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that our response has been devised with those communities that use khat very particularly in mind, and we will continue to work with our partners, including those communities, to support the successful implementation of the ban.

This is the Government’s response to the amendment. I am sorry that the noble Baroness felt she had to table it. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have illuminated this debate. I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Motion, and I commend the two orders to the House.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:00 pm, 12th May 2014

My Lords, as on many other occasions, I am grateful to the Minister for the time and care he takes in responding to issues raised in debate. I hope he understands that the only contributions made in your Lordships’ House today have expressed concerns about the Government’s actions regarding the ban on this drug. Our concern is that, with a decision as finely balanced as the Minister said, how it is implemented is very important.

I was somewhat surprised at the uncharacteristically ungenerous comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She said we were looking for something to do. I find that a curious expression when we are looking at a very serious issue on a busy day in your Lordships’ House. These issues strike at the heart of how such a policy would be implemented. The noble Baroness said that she was unhappy with the amendment before us, but it is open to any Member of your Lordships’ House to table a regret Motion or any other kind of Motion.

We debated this issue in Grand Committee and today. Noble Lords will understand that there are grave concerns about the Government’s action. I am grateful to the Minister for giving us more information on policing. My greatest disappointment is on the issue of health. In a previous debate on drugs, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, responded, I said that the FRANK website is not really an answer in cases such as this because somebody has to be interested in order to access it in the first place. As the Government are seeking to ban this drug, they have to be very proactive.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sure the noble Baroness will admit that this is not the sole intervention that the Government are making but is part and parcel of a package of health and community activities that the Government have commissioned. Public Health England is and will be very active in pursing this ban.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is helpful, and I look forward to receiving more information. The point is that the measures must be in place and understood prior to the implementation of any ban. My greatest disappointment is that the Minister has failed to commit to a review. For us, that is crucial. At the 12-month point, there should be a full understanding and published figures and information. Given that it is such a finely balanced decision, to say that there will be continuous review seems to be an opportunity not to have the serious review that we are seeking. I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but I am disappointed that he has not been able to address all the points that we raised. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Baroness Smith of Basildon’s amendment to the Motion.

Contents 125; Not-Contents 216.

Baroness Smith of Basildon’s amendment to the Motion disagreed.

Division number 2 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014 — Motion to Approve

Aye: 123 Members of the House of Lords

No: 214 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Motion agreed.