Synthetic Cannabinoids: Reclassification — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 6th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 10:38 am, 6th November 2018

The fact that two Stoke-on-Trent MPs are taking part in the debate tells its own story, about the sense of urgency and concern in that city. That will be noticed by me and by the House.

Prisons featured in several contributions, and I know that Toby Perkins visited Nottingham Prison recently and was shocked by what he saw. There is clearly a significant drug problem in prisons, exacerbated by the emergence of synthetics and psychoactive substances. I can, again, point out a stream of action being taken. A new drugs force is working with law enforcement to restrict supply, reduce demand and build recovery, and is working with 10 of the most challenging prisons; £6 million is being invested to tackle drug supply in those establishments. There is a new national partnership agreement for prison healthcare and a new £9 million joint Ministry of Justice and NHS drug recovery prison pilot at Holme House Prison. I could go on, but I see evidence of a proactive Government approach to drugs in prisons.

A number of colleagues mentioned rough sleeping, and made the relevant links with these drugs. Again, that is an unacceptable feature of too many town centres, high streets and shop entrances. I hope that there is cross-party support for the new rough sleeping strategy. The £100 million package is a step towards achieving the vision of a country where no one needs to sleep rough, by 2027. I could go into the details of that but I think that the House is aware of it.

There was, rightly, substantial comment about the need for effective treatment and prevention. I could not be more supportive of the emphasis that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield placed on that. If we have learned anything in this place from many years of evidence on many issues, it is that it is always smarter to invest in the fence at the top of the cliff than in the ambulance at the bottom. That is nowhere more true than in the matter of drugs. I can see from the statistics that people are seeking and receiving treatment from drugs services. Data from the national drug treatment monitoring system show that 1,223 adults presented to treatment for new psychoactive substances in 2017-18 in England, and 703 of those cases were for synthetic cannabinoids. Presentations for synthetic cannabinoids represented 0.6% of all adults who presented to drug and alcohol treatment in 2017-18.

To support those services, there is guidance on treatment for synthetic cannabinoids, including the recently updated drug treatment clinical guidelines, NEPTUNE’s “Guidance on the Clinical Management of Acute and Chronic Harms of Club Drugs and Novel Psychoactive Substances”, and Public Health England’s new psychoactive substance toolkits for the community and prisons. However, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there is also more investment going into the NHS. The Health Secretary has made it clear that prevention is a core pillar of his approach to the brief. He is right about that, and we must see the dividend from more effective prevention work in years to come.

I join others in offering congratulations on some excellent examples of partnership and multi-agency working and police work in Derbyshire, south Wales, Gwent, Staffordshire and Mansfield. There is clearly good leadership on the issue around the country, which is fundamental. The importance of local multi-agency working is clear in our drug strategy and modern crime prevention strategy. This is not just a police issue. We are not going to arrest or sentence our way out of it. The key is such local leadership and such multi-agency partnerships. Having been reading up in preparation for this and previous debates, and having got to understand a bit better the work going on in Mansfield, I join my hon. Friend in commending the work of Mansfield police and their partners. It seems extremely commendable —arguably “best in class” across the system. Part of my responsibility and engagement with the National Police Chiefs Council is to challenge the system, and learn from the rest of the system, about what works and what partnership working is really effective.

I want in my closing remarks to move things on a bit, as I think my hon. Friend is already aware of the things I have talked about so far; we have had such exchanges before. I am persuaded by his previous debates, this debate and correspondence from police and crime commissioners of different political persuasions that we need to go further. I hope he welcomes the major review of drugs that the Home Secretary announced on 2 October, including a focus on the workings of the drugs market and synthetic cannabinoids, which will be in the scope of the review. That is a major piece of work.

I have also asked the National Crime Agency to undertake a threat assessment of synthetic cannabinoids, which will be reported to the Department in spring. It will provide a richer picture of the threat faced by law enforcement. I hope my hon. Friend welcomes that too.