[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair] — Backbench business — Drugs Policy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:28 pm on 16th December 2010.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 4:28 pm, 16th December 2010

I do not intend to have an annual debate on decriminalisation. What I want to see is the emerging evidence. Some of the issues that are raised are sometimes on the basis of supposition and assertion and we will look at any clear evidence that appears. I have been considering this issue for quite some time, as I know that the right hon. Gentleman has, and the comments that I make this afternoon are made not because I am on the Front Bench or the Back Bench, but because they are honestly held views. We are simply not persuaded by the arguments on decriminalisation because we feel that it will increase supply, that it does not take account of the complexities of the drug problem-why people become addicted to drugs in the first place-and that it could make the situation worse. It is a question of looking at the outcomes of our policy.

The pilots around payment by results will be introduced during the course of this year. It would be premature to expect results over the course of 12 months. This is a five-year strategy-or a four-and-a-half-year one now. We will be considering not only the interim outcomes that will be produced by the strategy, but the evidence and the performance that sits alongside the course of the strategy as it is implemented. That is the responsible and sensible thing to do.

The right hon. Gentleman said that drugs have become a party political football, but I believe that they are becoming less of that. I certainly welcome some of the comments that were made this afternoon by the hon. Lady who speaks for the Opposition in relation to the approaches that have been set out in the new drugs strategy. I also appreciate the welcome that has been given to our proposals for dealing with legal highs and the temporary bans that are suggested in the new Police and Social Responsibility Bill. I hope that even this afternoon we are having a measured debate, even if we disagree on some of the themes and issues that are being debated. It is important that we have a sensible and measured debate, even if we may fundamentally disagree on some issues. At least it sets a measured framework around the discussion of some of these themes, which I know is sometimes difficult to achieve in debating what is a sensitive issue that often provokes a number of passions.

I would also take issue with the claim that the approach on enforcement is not capable of working, especially when one considers that the quality of cocaine on the streets is, in some cases, as low as 10% in purity at the moment. That shows some of the very effective work that is taking place, both in-country and also upstream back to places such as Latin America, where cocaine-from coca production-comes from, as I know that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East will know very well. When I visited Latin America at the end of September, I was very impressed by a number of measures that Governments in that region are undertaking, not only to tackle production but to undermine and take very clear action against the organised crime groups that do harm in this country as well as in Latin American countries. That co-operation between countries on enforcement and on sharing intelligence is a very effective way of responding to some of the organised crime groups, including seizing assets and using such powers more effectively to get at what is driving a number of those groups. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will have seen that that has been a theme that we have developed clearly in the drugs strategy itself.

The new drugs strategy is a critical articulation of our reform programme and work to tackle the key causes of societal harm, which include crime, family breakdown and poverty. It sets out a different approach to tackling drug use and dependence. The difference from previous strategies is the focus on the key aim of supporting and enabling those who are dependent on drugs and alcohol to recover fully, and the strategy places responsibility on individuals to seek help to overcome their dependency. Alongside our holistic approach to supporting people to overcome their dependency, we will also be reducing the demand for drugs, by taking an uncompromising approach to crack down on those involved in the drugs trade and shifting power and accountability to local areas to tackle the damage that drugs and alcohol dependence cause to communities.

The strategy sets out two high-level ambitions; first, to reduce illicit and other harmful drug use, and secondly to increase the numbers of individuals recovering from their dependency on drugs and alcohol. I think that we are seeing a changing pattern in what the experts would describe as polysubstance abuse; drugs are not being taken in isolation, but are being taken together. That is why it is important in the treatment framework to ensure that alcohol is part of that treatment platform. These ambitions will be achieved through activity that will encompass three themes: reducing demand; restricting supply, and building recovery.

On reducing demand, we will focus on establishing-

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Nik Morris
Posted on 28 Jan 2011 2:14 pm (Report this annotation)

I wrote to Mr Brokenshire on the subject of cocaine purity, to question him on his research.
To James Brokenshire.

Dear Sir,

During a recent drugs debate you said, "I would also take issue with the claim that the approach on enforcement is not capable of working, especially when one considers that the quality of cocaine on the street...s is, in some cases, as low as 10% in purity at the moment. That shows some of the very effective work that is taking place, both in-country and also upstream back to places such as Latin America, where cocaine-from coca production-comes from, as I know that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East will know very well. When I visited Latin America at the end of September, I was very impressed by a number of measures that Governments in that region are undertaking, not only to tackle production but to undermine and take very clear action against the organised crime groups that do harm in this country as well as in Latin American countries. That co-operation between countries on enforcement and on sharing intelligence is a very effective way of responding to some of the organised crime groups, including seizing assets and using such powers more effectively to get at what is driving a number of those groups. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will have seen that that has been a theme that we have developed clearly in the drugs strategy itself."

If Cocaine is of such a poor quality, would it not be safe to assume that the product is being cut to an ever greater extent because the market is growing at an ever increasing rate. A simple analysis of the economic model of supply and demand would demonstrate this. Also, the link made by you, between cocaine purity and law enforcement working, is utterly devoid of common sense. If you believe that Cocaine purity has anything to do with Law enforcement PROVE it. Also, can you honestly say this is a good thing? I believe you can't, as some of the cutting agents now used to secure greater profits for organised smugglers, suppliers and dealers can be MORE harmful than cocaine itself. If what you say is true(incredibly unlikely as that seems), then law enforcement would be causing a greater harm to the user, and could not in anyway be construed as good for public health.

Many thanks for talking about Latin American countries and their efforts to curb the drug trade. Many thousands of people are dying as a result of prohibition in many of these countries and many of the governments are coming under greater pressure as a result, leading to the destabilisation of many. For all the money that's being spent of a global scale no real harm has come to the drug trade. It has indeed grown on a yearly basis since the 1970's. Thus, the only way to "control" the drugs trade is to monitor that same trade. Only when drugs are treated like a commodity will this madness end. Prohibition has caused the greatest harm to society by its very nature. If you support this madness you support the death penalty for users and suppliers. By supporting this policy you add to the harms experienced by drug users, caused by the cutting agents involved during the transition from Latin America to the streets of the UK. You may want to see the end to drug use worldwide with your prohibitionist stance, but that's not going to happen. Not in my lifetime and certainly not in yours. Your part of the problem and not of the solution. How do you see the new drugs strategy and it's costs measuring up against the drug trade that's worth hundreds of billions worldwide? You're a fool to think you can win.

Yours,

Nik Morris

The reply

Dear Mr Morris,

Thank you for your email to James Brokenshire received on the 22 December 2010 regarding the UK approach to cocaine. Your email has been passed to the Drug Strategy Unit and I have been asked... to reply. I am sorry for the delay in replying.

The Government’s objective is to reduce the use of all illegal drugs substantially, not to encourage increased consumption due to more ready access to increased supply. Its educational message – to young people in particular – is that all illegal drugs are harmful and that no one should take them. While the UK’s drugs laws cannot be expected to eliminate drug use, they do help to limit supply and use and deter experimentation.

Those who suggest alternative policy options such as the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs fail to recognise the complexity of the problem and give insufficient regard to the harms that drugs pose to the individual. It neither addresses the risk factors which lead individuals to misuse drugs or alcohol, nor the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community.

Arguments raised in favour of legalisation or decriminalisation also suggest that this would reduce a range of harms associated with the illicit control and supply of drugs and save time and costs on police, prison and legal resources. However, this view tends to take no account of the drawbacks to a regulated market, including consequences of the legalisation or decriminalisation of a drug, and increased access, on levels of use that would follow, as well as the crimes and antisocial behaviour committed under the influence.

The Government and law enforcement agencies are determined to reduce cocaine use in this country and with cocaine purity falling we know that drug dealers increasingly rely on cutting agents like benzocaine. There are likely to be a number of factors which influence the purity and price of cocaine in the UK. But wholesale prices of the drug are at very high levels and street level priorities are at low levels while reported use of cocaine between 2008-09 and 2009-10 is reduced. We believe these factors are indicative of the effects of enforcement activity.

An estimated 65-70% of UK’s identified cocaine supply is believed to be produced in Colombia, or in the border areas of neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador. Peru and Bolivia account for the vast majority of the remaining 30 – 35%.

The cocaine trade has a profoundly negative impact on producer countries in Latin America. It constricts economic development, corruptly undermines political processes, causes significant ecological damage and is linked to (and funds) domestic terrorism. Cocaine is trafficked through the Caribbean or West Africa to Europe and the UK. Countries in these regions also suffer serious effects. For example, the increasing exploitation of West Africa by traffickers and the involvement of West African criminal groups have undermined stability and development.

Yours sincerely

F. Hardy

My answer to this...

PROHIBITION is the cause and not the SOLUTION. If this is government in action, we need a full and open debate. The answers you give to explain your position are illogical. Sad but true...Nik Morris.