Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
BLUNKETT, MP AND
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
1. Good afternoon, Home Secretary. I gather
you want to say something to us about drugs policy, and I have
moved that up more or less to the top of the agenda, but I thought
I would just start off by asking you first about your priorities
for this Parliament, leaving aside the proposed anti-terrorism
measures. Can you give us a sort of overview of your priorities
for this Parliament?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes. The Proceeds of Crime Bill, which
will have its Second Reading next week, of course links directly
to many of the issues that we are dealing with post 11 September,
but also to the issues that will be of concern to the Committee.
It also links in with the fact that we are engaging heavily now
with the police reform agenda, and the White Paper and subsequent
legislation will actually enable us to put in place those reforms,
I hope, as quickly as we can over the winter. The consultations
have been taking place on that basis. We have, by dint of the
events of 11 September, also got a space for nationality and asylum
and for extradition. I am mentioning those because obviously they
have wider implications, albeit that they are tied in with the
tragic events of 11 September. So once we have got the Anti-Terrorism
Bill out of the way towards the end of November, with the agreement
of the two Houses, we will then be able to concentrate on other
issues which are all relevant to us. We will also, of course,
be dealing with the wider issues of concern that come under the
remit of the Home Office. I am keen to link what we are doing
on police and crime and anti-social behaviour with the agenda
against Class A drug-taking and the way in which we develop that
as part of the active citizenship and community agenda. I want
to underpin the work of the Home Office, whether it is on crime
reduction and community policing, or whether it is on nationality
and asylum, or whether it is on our criminal justice system, probation,
police and the wider criminal justice reforms on sentencing and
others, with the issue of how we mobilise communities to be part
of the solution. We have now the role both to co-ordinate voluntary
action and volunteering across Government, as well as the Active
Communities Unit, and it is our intention to make that real over
the months ahead.
2. Assuming, as we all hope, that you remain
Home Secretary for the duration of this Parliament, what would
you like to look back on as your achievement at the end of that
time? What would be your goals?
(Mr Blunkett) I think the overall achievement that
I would seek would be that the impact of the Home Office's remit
generally had actually been seen in the communities we represent
to have made a difference to their lives; in other words, not
simply to fulfil public service agreement targets or even internal
service targets, but actually literally to have made a difference
in the way that people feel about the issues that we are relating
together and that they have some sway, some say, over what is
taking place. Hence the decision to have a broader consultation
on sentencing, to broaden the debate and the consultation on the
Auld Report, to open up issues around policing and the role of
the community, and to do so within the context of the development
capability, the capacity-building of communities to play a part.
3. Are you satisfied that, for example, police
priorities are the same as those of the communities they serve?
(Mr Blunkett) I think that the variation that we see,
both in terms of the application of resources to those priorities
and in terms of outcome, indicate that there would appear to be
great inconsistency. One of the items of our formal agenda is
to address that and to do so in ways which do not take away local
operational responsibility or flexibility but actually use best
practice, hence the setting up and establishment of the Standards
Unit for the Police Service and the development of the agenda
which is now being considered by the Police Negotiating Board
4. You have two major pieces of legislation,
apart from the terrorism one, in the pipeline: the Criminal Justice
Bill and the Police Reform Bill. Without getting into the details
of either, might you be able to let us see both of those Bills
sufficiently far in advance for us to indulge in a little pre-leg.
scrutiny? As you know, the quality of much of the legislation
in the past is often substandard, it is inadequately scrutinised.
Does the fact that those Bills are going to be delayed now because
of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, give us an opportunity to have a look
at the proposals?
(Mr Blunkett) There will not be a delay, I hope, in
the police reform measure, and therefore it would be difficult
to go through a pre-scrutiny process in the way that I think you
and, for that matter, I would find most favourable, but I think
that if I can consult with the Lord Chancellor who has dual responsibility
with me for the broader criminal justice measures, we might be
able to find a way of ensuring that we can engage Parliamentin
this case the Select Committeein advance of the determination
through Parliament. It is almost certain that because of the massive
increased pressure on the legislative timetable that you just
mentioned, the criminal justice legislation most certainly for
this Session will be delayed.
5. Thank you for that, that is very helpful.
Turning now to drugs, shortly after your appointment as Home Secretary
you did indicate a willingness to review the assumptions on which
our drugs policy was based. Have you come to any conclusions?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I have come to the conclusion that
it is necessary to clarify this for the purposes of your own deliberations
as a Committee and the mature debate that I indicated in the early
summer was necessary, actually to have a much clearer picture
of what government policy will be towards some of the more controversial
areas. I want to make it absolutely clear that the message from
Government will be "Don't take drugs of any kind, they are
dangerous and they will damage you." It is also absolutely
clear and necessary to have credibility, consistency and clarity
in relation to those policies, therefore I want to combine with
colleagues across Government programmes in relation to education,
geared to an aid to young people, that are both credible to young
people and are targeted and focused on the main risk that they
face, namely the use of Class A drugs. I want to link that with
harm minimisation programmes that again recognise that a quarter
of a million people in the country are currently at risk because
of their drug-taking policies using Class A drugs, and that we
need to be able to link the development of policies for testing
with the policies and the development, for instance, with heroin
of the methadone programmes, with the reality of what happens
on the ground. The Department of Health and the Home Office will
be developing an expert group to advise us on an action plan which
will include harm minimisation programmes and that will also include
whether we should engage in highly structured heroin prescribing.
We also wish to look at the way in which the middle-market programme
of attacking drug distribution can be stepped up. In four Midland
countiesthe West Midlands, West Mercia, Staffordshire and
Warwickshirewe are putting up £1 million for a pilot
programme in terms of tackling those middle markets with the dealers
who link into the international traffickers. Should this be successful,
the Proceeds of Crime Bill will assist us in being able to use
the proceeds of trafficking, and of the harm that that causes,
actually to invest in tackling those crimes. We also intend to
step up the pilot programme now beginning in Nottingham, Stafford
and Hackney, on testing at the point of custody suites and the
way in which that will work to identify drug use as part, as you
know, of the major contribution to petty crime and to robbery,
burglary in particular. To do this, to have a credible policy
on education, on treatment, on harm minimisation, and above all
consistently on law enforcement and policing, we believe it is
right to look at the re-categorisation of cannabis. I shall therefore
be putting to the Advisory Council on Drug Misuse a proposal that
we should re-categorise cannabis to C rather than B, thereby allowing
the police to concentrate their resources on Class A drugscrack
cocaine and heroin in particularand to ensure that whilst
they are able to deal with those who are pushing and dealing in
drugs in exactly the same way as they can at the moment, it will
both lighten their load and make more sense on the streets than
it does at the moment. We have the support of the Metropolitan
Police Commissioner and many of those engaged in law enforcement
across the country, and the experiment in Lambeth is already proving
both successful in terms of concentrating and prioritising resources,
but also with the police on the streets themselves who are now
able to make more sense of policy finally. The public policy and
practice will now be brought in line and will be coherent. If
the Advisory Council see fit to do so, I think that will make
sense to many people. There is one other factor, and that is the
issue of the medical use of cannabis derivative. We are now in
the third phase of the testing, assessment and evaluation programme.
Shouldas I believe it willthis programme be proved
to be successful, I will recommend to the Medical Control Agency
that they should go ahead with authorising the medical use of
this for medical purposes. We therefore will have a coherence,
given the derivatives of other more dangerous drugs that are currently
available for prescribing.
6. So on the re-classification of cannabis you
are in fact accepting the recommendation that Dame Ruth Runciman
made in her Police Foundation report, is that right?
(Mr Blunkett) I am accepting that part of it that
relates to re-classification. My predecessor indicated that this
should be kept under review. I have reviewed it, and I believe
that is the right way forward.
7. I think she also mentions LSD and Ecstasy
as possible candidates for re-classification. Do you have any
thoughts on that?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, my thoughts are that they should
remain Class A drugs.
8. Can you tell us when you expect to reach
a firm decision on that? When do you expect to hear back from
the Advisory Committee?
(Mr Blunkett) Professor Michael Rawlings assures me
that will be within three months. They have a meeting in early
Novemberone of the reasons, as well as your own investigation,
that I wanted to clarify government proposals before the winter.
They have a meeting in November. They believe that within three
months they can come back to us. Those who are more versed in
these matters than I am will go back to 1981 when the Advisory
Council at that time did, not unanimously but by a majority, publish
a report recommending re-categorisation, so there is nothing new
about this debate.
9. Can I now turn to Keith Hellawell. Why was
he removed as UK Anti-Drug Co-ordinator?
(Mr Blunkett) Because he was on special adviser terms,
his term in office ceased at the General Election, and I wished,
having taken over responsibility for the co-ordination and development
of policy for drugs across Government and having absorbed the
Drugs Unit into the Home Office, to re-evaluate the most useful
means of drawing on his expertise. We have nowand we published
a press release todayagreed that the use of his time on
a part-time specialist basis will be to advise and assist us with
issues around international drug issues, including trafficking,
to work with me on the agenda in the European Union and in the
Justice and Home Affairs Council and, specifically in the immediate
short term, issues around precursors and the way in which we can
develop common policies for protecting our boundaries and tackling
drug trafficking. He has accepted that with great pleasure because
his expertise had developed in the international drugs field.
10. Were you unhappy with his work?
(Mr Blunkett) No, I think Keith Hellawell had done
the job he was asked to do, which was to develop the structure
around the ten-year strategy, to help Government to draw down
on experience elsewhere and to be able to reinforce that in circumstances
where responsibility for different elements of drug policy rested
in different departments.
Chairman: Thank you. Mr Cameron.
11. Home Secretary, going back to your announcement
about cannabis and re-classification, to what extent do you think
cannabis leads on to harder drugs because cannabis and harder
drugs are all in the black market, and someone wanting to buy
cannabis has to go into the black market to buy it? What is your
thinking on that argument? Do you think your announcement today
goes far enough, and is the government policy set against decriminalisation,
or is it something on which you have an open mind?
(Mr Blunkett) I am not in favour of either legislation
or decriminalisation. I believe that the issues around whether
cannabis is a gateway drug have been widely debated, but without
conclusion. I have seen some of the evidence that has been adduced
from other parts of the world on both sides. The Advisory Council
undoubtedly will want to say something about this, but the evidence
that we have at the moment, particularly with the increased use
of crack and cocaine amongst young people, whilst there has been
an overall general drop in terms of drug use, would indicate that
there is a movement direct to the Class A drugs, which is why
I want to get the educational and public policy measures right
and make sure that people understand, particularly young people
understand, that we know what we are talking about and that we
have proportionality in the messages that we are sending out.
12. I have one last question on this. Given
your very welcome announcement on the importance of treating heroin
addiction and rehabilitation which many people have thought of
as the Cinderella service that has not had much attention, do
you think that the Home Office can lead the debate on drugs and
the fight against drugs, if such an important area lies outside
your ambit because most treatment and rehabilitation is with the
Department of Health, although there are some voluntary bodies
that report to you? Is that split going to make it possible for
you toas I think you shouldpay much more attention
to drug treatment and rehabilitation?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I will be able to do that. I have,
as you will expect, very good relations with the Secretary of
State for Health, and we have discussed the development of the
new National Treatment Agency which, of course, was only established
from 1 April, to be able to link what is happening here with harm
minimisation and work on a broader front of misuse. I think that
if we can get that right we will have, for the first time in this
country, a coherent and seamless policy that will help people,
not just those who are facing imprisonment and charge where we
have now policies, of course, that are able to pick up those cries
for help, but actually people who have not yet come into touch
with the criminal justice system and, I hope, to be able to support
their families as well, because I think everyone round this table
in their constituencies will have come across families who are
heartbroken, whose very life is destroyed by what has happened
to those in their family who have not only started to take drugs
but have got involved in crime as a result, and the deterioration
both in themselves and in their lifestyle is heartbreaking.
13. The use of drugs, certainly some drugs,
Home Secretary, is, as you indicate, extremely harmful, no one
can possibly dispute that. What do you say, though, to the argument
that the existing laws which successive governments have defended
really help the drug dealers who would certainly be very much
opposed to decriminalisation?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, I have heard that. I believe that
people, as they are in the Netherlands, have to answer the question
as to how you deal with the dealers. I do not want to get into
a situation where people are arrested in countries like the Netherlands
for production, the equipment is then auctioned, as is their law,
and people then buy the equipment at the lowest possible level
and re-commence producing it. They are still liable. The people
who are actually then the intermediaries are not, because it is
very difficult actually to place a situation of decriminalisation
on the user without ascertaining how they receive their supply.
So being tough on the traffickers, tough on the dealers and sensibly
sensitive to those who are users seems to me to be a logical outcome.
14. Some would say that smoking, there is no
dispute, is extremely dangerous, and we know the cost to the National
Health Service as well, it is costing lives, but no one, to my
knowledge, has suggested decriminalising cigarette smoking, have
(Mr Blunkett) No, they have not, for the very reason
I am proposing to re-categorise cannabis, namely that public policy,
the enforcement of the law and basic criminality, have to be in
harmony with each other.
15. I have one final question. The Minister
yesterday saidI believe I am quoting him correctlythat
the Government wants an adult debate on drugs. Do we take it,
Home Secretary, that the statement you made is not necessarily
the conclusion of your thoughts over this Parliament, and that
there is a possibility that the Government will review the position,
other than what you have already stated?
(Mr Blunkett) I would be a very foolish Home Secretary
indeed if I believed that this would close down the debate, and
you are going to have a very vigorous debate no doubt in taking
evidence and reviewing where we are at the moment. I will listen
very, very carefully to what the Select Committee have to say
at the end of their deliberations as part of that mature debate,
but I want to make it clear that this is our position, and we
felt it would be helpful in your deliberations that you knew that,
rather than our coming out halfway through with a change in categorisation.
David Winnick: Undoubtedly. Thank you.
16. Home Secretary, I wonder if you could say
a bit more about your plans for anti-drug education programmes,
particularly for schoolchildren? We are hearing that larger numbers
of schoolchildren are exposed to readily available drugs at a
younger and younger age, and that despite the large amount of
anti-drug education, larger numbers of schoolchildren disregard
it. We clearly need a completely different style if we are going
to tackle that, do we not?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes. We are working very closely with
the Department for Education and Skills on the way in which the
inclusion of health along with personal and social education will
enable that to take place. There are some extraordinarily good
experiments in peer group educationbearing in mind that
young people tend to take more notice of young people than they
do of people of my ageand the way in which we can reinforce
that. The Department for Education and Skills will be increasing
from £21 million to, I think, £47½ million the
amount being devoted overall to these issues, to the wider personal,
social and health education issues, and drugs are now a very substantial
part of that agenda. We want also to engage the new Connexion
Service which will draw together the various youth service and
support provision for teenagers so that they can be part of this
process, along with the youth offending teams. We are putting
resources ourselves directly into communities as part of the CAD
Drugs Programme£50 million extra in this yearso
that local communities themselves can work along with schools
and youth services on these issues.
17. Will that include the tackling of the sale
of drugs outside schools, which is very prolific?
(Mr Blunkett) I would like the reinforcement of our
broader policies to engage the police at command unit level, at
working with the police on what is happening around schools generally
in terms of those who are engaging young people in this and other
similar activities. I think all of us would feel that this is
precisely where the police at local level and the mobilisation
of the community and parents can have the biggest effect; in other
words, this is not just down to the police, it is actually something
that we could support and engage communities in undertaking. In
those areasI am familiar, for example, in Balsall Heath
with what is happening with the St Paul's area where the community
itself became part of the solutionan enormous impact was
visible in terms of being able to see off those dealers. We then
need to pick up the fact that so many of them are pyramid selling,
namely that they are users and in order to feed their usage they
are persuaded to deal and they then catch other young people in
that terrible cycle. That is why I think we need to engage this
holistic approach in making sure that we are not simply seeing
them off to another area, but we are actually engaging them and
being able to start treating them.
18. Home Secretary, I was particularly interested
to hear you mention Staffordshire as one of the authorities where
you wanted to tackle middle markets. I wonder if you could expand
on what you had in mind?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible,
who was certainly here earlier this afternoon, the Member for
Coventry North East, last week engaged in developing the concept
of the four pilot programmes linked to the publication of the
Proceeds of Crime Bill, because, as I said earlier, the two will
be able to go hand in hand, they will be able to pilot the programme
in terms of targeting what are called the middle-market dealers.
There has been a lot of concern by the police that whilst picking
up the pushers, the people I was just answering Angela Watkinson
on, is taking place at local level, there is this line from traffickers
through to that level, which has not received the attention it
deserves. We need the National Criminal Intelligence Service and
NCS to be able to link with the local police at BCU level to be
able to have an impact, and this experiment with this pilot will
be able to engage those crime reduction and intelligence services,
along with the local police as well. It is a considerable theme
of mine, once we have been able to put in place security for ourselves
following 11 September, that the security services generally should
be able to play a much bigger part in disrupting the trafficking
flows, and that will include the middle market.
19. Thank you. Would that include extra resources
for the police authorities?
(Mr Blunkett) It will be targeted at the specific
pilot area; it will be a ring-fenced approach. Initially we are
putting up £1 million in order to kick-start it, but obviously
as the proceeds of crime are recouped we will then be able to
reinvest in a much bigger way.