Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this one-off evidence session and to the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We are very pleased to see you, Dame Ruth, and your colleagues. We were hoping to run this session slightly differently in the sense that we hope we can have much more of a discussion than a simple exchange of gunfire, as it were, as we sometimes do; the better to get at things. Perhaps I might start, Dame Ruth, by just for the record if you could tell us something about the nature of the Police Foundation and what earlier recent reports you have done?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) Well, the Director of the Police Foundation is sitting behind me and perhaps he would be the best person to tell you that, if that were possible.

  2. Could we just have a name, please?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) Dr Barry Irving.
  (Dr Irving) The question was that you wanted to know something about the background of the Foundation?

  3. Yes.
  (Dr Irving) We were formed in 1979 as an organisation to carry out independent research on policing. We were formed by and with the support of the Home Office and the Police Service, but the intention was always that we would be an independent organisation and that we would raise funds for independent research. About 1989/1990, it was suggested to a number of advisers to the Foundation, a number of professors of criminology and others that we should engage in independent inquiries on matters of importance in policing and the first such inquiry we undertook was on the relevant responsibilities of the police and this was followed by setting up this present inquiry under Dame Ruth Runciman, following on from the process which started with the publication of the ACMD's Report, `Police and Drug Misuse in the Community'. This was responded to by the Association of Chief Police Officers in 1995 with a suggestion that there should be more independent research on the possible effects of legalisation of cannabis and a thorough going review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We take up cudgels on behalf of that particular mission at the suggestion of Professor Bean who was a member of the ACMD sub-committee that produced the report and that led to this particular inquiry. At the same time we have continued with a programme of independent research on policing matters which to some extent an aside and parallel to that programme of work.

  4. Dame Ruth, can you tell us how you went about selecting those Members for this inquiry?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) What we did is, we started by defining the various constituencies and expertise that needed to be represented. Obviously policing, obviously pharmacology, obviously education and having defined what kind of expertise we wanted, we sought guidance. I had the advantage of having been on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for 20 years, so I did know who was out there and we took a lot of advice and our single criterion as well as expertise was that we wanted people who were open-minded and would bring a fresh perspective and uncluttered baggage to the inquiry. Of course one obviously had to pick and choose between people who had very heavy time commitments, etcetera. But it was the usual kind of process but a bit more than the usual ad hocery.

  5. The National Drug Prevention Alliance claims that 11 people who gave oral evidence and 12 who submitted written evidence they describe as legalisers/harm reductionists, compared to one oral and three written pieces of evidence on their sort of strategy review. You can only invite people to give evidence and you can only consider the evidence you get, but are you satisfied that there was enough of a broad range of evidence, or was it weighted more on one side of the argument than the other?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) I am satisfied that we had a broad range of evidence and I have to say that I am rather surprised that there is an equation between legalisers and harm reductionists. There is a very great difference being a legaliser and a harm reductionist. I am quite satisfied that the oral evidence that we sought—the written evidence of course, in a sense, was what came to us. We put out a call for evidence and we had to take what we got, but the oral evidence was carefully chosen to get as wide a spectrum of experience—above all, experience—as we could.

  6. The objectives of the inquiry suggest that some of the recommendations for change in the law was expected, that it was almost inevitable that having reviewed this perhaps because it had been in place over 30 years that you are almost bound to recommend some changes. Was this an expectation by any of those who helped fund this inquiry or did you feel nudged in a certain direction; that is really what I am getting at?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) No, absolutely not. I think it is really quite important to put on record how extremely independently we proceeded and how scrupulous the Police Foundation and all our funders were to ensure that independence. We felt nudged in no direction at all.

  7. Okay, thanks. As to the three groups of young people interviewed why was that only done in London and not in another big city and a rural area?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) I think that is a perfectly fair question. One of the groups was done in outer London and the young people who came to that group lived, some of them, beyond that, beyond London. I think that is a perfectly fair question.

  8. But why did it happen? That is what I am asking.
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) Time, resources, the opportunities, etcetera, but in fact the young people we saw, one of them was from a homeless project, were not on the whole Londoners, almost by definition.

  9. Perhaps really I am thinking that some evidence from a rural community would have been useful to you from the perspective of different routes into drug abuse?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) We took evidence from Howard Parker who has done a good deal of work, as you know, in many areas including rural areas among young people in all kinds of areas. We took very detailed evidence from him.

  10. Did you speak to Keith Hellawell in the course of the inquiry?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) No. We spoke privately to Keith Hellawell.

  11. Why did he not give you formal evidence?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) I think you must ask him that question.

  12. Okay. You would have been happy to—
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) We invited him. We would have liked to—

  13. Okay, fine. Just a couple of other questions if I may please? You have not published the MORI poll that you commissioned. Was there a reason for that?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) No and we would liked to have published it. It is actually a question of resources. It is available to anybody who requires it, but it really is a resource issue.

  14. And during the course of the inquiry you lost two of its Members, Mr Murray, a solicitor and Mrs Chesney, Chief Executive of Cranstoun Drug Service. They resigned before the Report was finished?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) And Mr Mike Trace, who is now the Deputy Drug Czar.

  15. Yes, that is right?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) They both resigned for personal reasons. Mrs Chesney took a new job which made it very difficult for her and Mr Murray's wife was ill.

  16. The last question I want to ask before I come to Mr Malins, were you surprised that the Government was so instantly dismissive of your Report, if I interpret that right?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) I wish I could say I was surprised. I was not wholly surprised. Of course I was disappointed. What was more surprising, if I may say so, and particularly pleasing was the extraordinarily fair wind we got from the press right across the political spectrum in terms of their call for a mature and rational—as the Daily Mail put it—public debate. So that was the surprise, the Government's response was not, although the Home Secretary assures us that he is considering it seriously and has set up a small group under Mr Hellawell to advise him.

  Chairman: Right. Thank you. Mr Malins?

Mr Malins

  17. Just a quick question on the make-up of the group. You will know that in the Courts those who are responsible for dealing with cases involving drugs in some way are principally the Stipendiary Magistrates Association and the Lay Magistrates Association. Did either of those groups give evidence to you?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) Not oral evidence. I cannot actually remember. I do not think they did as such and certainly they did not—

  18. May I suggest that they did not, because they are not listed as having given evidence. Would you agree with that?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) Yes.

  19. Did any stipendiary magistrate or metropolitan stipendiary magistrate or lay justice give evidence to you personally?
  (Dame Ruth Runciman) No.

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