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Policing and Crime Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 7th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 8:15 pm, 7th December 2016

My Lords, it is a great honour to be in the presence of two such world-renowned athletes. Their Lordships look so well that it has certainly given me great inspiration to go back to the gym as soon as possible.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for again raising the important issue of tackling doping in sport. As the House will be aware, the Government are reviewing the issue of criminalisation. The review is now in its final stages and we hope we will soon be in a position to publish. In finalising the report, we will naturally want to take into account the views expressed by noble Lords in this debate.

Anti-doping is a technical area and it is important to stress here that undertaking a review requires a comprehensive evidence base before considering any possible legislative options. The Government are very much alive to the issues and are actively examining what more can be done to enhance our national approach to doping, including the possibility of criminal sanctions, to uphold the highest standards of integrity in sport. We recognise that the desire to dope can be driven financially, and financial penalties are likely to be as damaging to those who cheat as a ban. Until now the Government’s view has been that, rather than through legislation, this should be a matter for sports bodies to sanction. The central question for the current review, however, is whether this approach still holds good.

It is important to underline that serious doping is already covered under existing domestic criminal legislation. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Medicines Act 1968, the trafficking and supply of many doping substances is a criminal offence, carrying a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Tough sanctions are also already in place via the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code. The code includes automatic four-year bans for drug cheats and support staff who are found guilty of doping. Such a ban forms a significant part of an athlete’s relatively short career, and it would also mean they would miss an Olympic Games cycle.

The Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, is member of the foundation board of the World Anti-Doping Agency and attended its November meeting, where there was acknowledgement from foundation board members that the current code would be subject to further revision in the near future. There was also a call to revisit the discussion around athletes convicted of doping offences being banned from the Olympic Games.

The Government remain committed to tackling doping in sport and we will continue to work with UK Anti-Doping and our sport stakeholders to ensure that our athletes can compete in a clean sport environment. If the evidence is clear that stronger sanctions are needed, we will take action. There is a process in train—indeed, nearing completion—to ascertain whether the evidence points in the direction advocated by my noble friend. I therefore respectfully suggest to him that until we have completed the review, it would be premature to legislate on this matter in the manner proposed in this amendment. My noble friend has suggested that the Government instead pursue a different course by taking a power to implement the review’s findings through regulations. This is a tempting offer, but I still believe that would be putting the cart before the horse, and the House and the Delegated Powers Committee would rightly chastise the Government for legislating on an important area of public policy through a wide-ranging delegated power.

I recognise that my noble friend has been pursuing this issue for a great many years. I think he suggested that the leadership of WADA is conflicted and that independence is needed. At the most recent meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency governing foundation board, approval was given for a review of WADA’s governance. Furthermore, there will also be a review on non-compliance sanctions. As a regulator, WADA needs teeth, and we are supportive of such an approach. I understand my noble friend’s frustration; none the less I hope he will bear with us for a little while longer. The Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, would be very pleased to meet my noble friend next week. In the meantime, I hope he will agree to withdraw his amendment.