Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses: (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. I am not trying to drive a wedge between you and the Home Secretary. I am just trying to understand the thinking that the Government are coming from. I should like to pick up on one other thing. You said that because taking cannabis is a criminal offence, it has an effect on young people. Can you therefore explain why cannabis taking in Holland is less than in the United Kingdom.
  (Sue Killen) The evidence I have is that it is broadly similar. Evidence on both class C drugs and class A drugs between the Netherlands and the UK is broadly similar.

  21. I beg to differ. I am looking at some evidence here from EMCDDA—I am sure you know what that stands for even if I do not—which shows that cannabis use in England is far higher than in Holland. I thought it was universally accepted. I am surprised to hear this because I thought it was accepted that fewer young people took cannabis in Holland than in England. Are you telling me it is the same amount?
  (Sue Killen) The information I have is that it is broadly similar.
  (Vic Hogg) We have some statistics which show that since the change in policy in Holland—and it is an unusual hybrid in that they have not decriminalised, they simply treat possession of small amounts of drug as a very low policing priority —

  22. But you can buy it legally in shops. You do not have to go into the black market.
  (Vic Hogg) No. You can buy it in shops, but the shops are supplied by the illegal market, which is a complication. In terms of the prevalence of cannabis use, the policy change in the Netherlands took place in 1976. There have been several national surveys in the Netherlands and these have shown, for example, that prevalence among 18 to 20-year-olds was 15 per cent in 1984 and that had reached 44 per cent by 1996. This is information we have obtained directly from the Dutch.
  (Sue Killen) If you want us to share statistics with each other, we can certainly give the Committee what we know, because we do not have our lead research person giving evidence today.


  23. Can you let us have a note about that[1]?

  (Sue Killen) Yes.

Mr Malins

  24. Turning to supply of cannabis, the gangs which supply it, should we be concerned at the prospect of the maximum sentence being reduced from 14 years to five years? It is a very big reduction which means that a supplier who pleads guilty and gets the discount for pleading guilty, cannot serve more than about 15 to 18 months in prison for any supply offence. Is that a worrying prospect?
  (Sue Killen) I come back to the fact that the Home Secretary wants to represent better the difference between the harm caused by class A drugs and by cannabis. He has therefore asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at that and crucial to the advice they give him will be the science and level of harm which cannabis causes. Therefore the sanctions which will ultimately be put in place against cannabis will be based on that level of harm.

Angela Watkinson

  25. Is not the declassification of cannabis simply an expedient because of the vast scale of the usage and the lack of police resources to deal with it? Could you not just compare it with saying you will not enforce against burglary any more, but you will push back the boundaries and only enforce against aggravated burglary? Is not the purchase of cannabis an incitement to commit a criminal offence? As the market is user created, should we not be concentrating more on deterrent?
  (Sue Killen) I am sorry to keep repeating the same point, but it comes down to the degree of harm that drug causes. That should be the basis of our classification and that should be the basis for how it is treated within the criminal justice system.

  26. I have an article here by a Dr Andrew Wilski, who is a consultant psychiatrist, who lists the harms as he sees them of cannabis use: inducing psychotic illness, inducing a lack of resolve, lesser ability to work, drive a car, operate machinery, bringing on general sloth, aimlessness and consequent depression, mental and chemical predisposition to psychotic illness. This is a professional, a medical man, who lists the dangers of cannabis use and claims that it is extremely harmful and questions whether the Government should not be doing more to deter its use, not making it easier?
  (Sue Killen) The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has on it a wide range of scientists, people with medical experience, practitioners. It will be they who will advise the Home Secretary. Obviously the evidence base on the damage that cannabis causes would be one of the things they would be looking at in advising him.

  27. It is rather pre-empted by the proposal to decriminalise which will give the wrong message, especially to very young people.
  (Sue Killen) The proposal is to seek the Committee's advice. The evidence base would seem to show that although there are harmful effects of cannabis, they are far, far fewer than the harmful effects of heroin and cocaine.

  28. I do not accept that is an argument to decriminalise.
  (Sue Killen) In no way, shape or form are we considering decriminalisation. What we are looking at is reclassification, retaining sanctions, keeping the treatment of this within the criminal justice system. I must emphasise the clear message the Home Secretary gave last week which is that all drugs are harmful. We do not want anybody taking them but you have to have some proportionality and credibility in the way that is explained to people. I would emphasise as well that one of the other things he was pushing and saying last week was the importance of targeting young people, delivering the right messages to them and emphasising that our strategy on young people is one of the most important areas of the strategy which we need to develop.

  Angela Watkinson: I repeat that I think the message is the wrong one.


  29. Will the consequent reduction in police powers of arrest and search impede rather than assist the police in their fight against drugs?
  (Vic Hogg) One of the things the Home Secretary has said is that he will want to consult with the police as part of this process. We will have to wait to see what happens in terms of powers of arrest, what the police say, what arguments they mount in terms of retention or otherwise of powers of arrest. As the law stands, reclassification would mean the loss of powers of arrest. The principal aim here which the Home Secretary has stated is that he wants to reposition policing and penalties in line with key priorities and the key priority is class A drugs. That is where the police should be focusing.

  30. Yes, we understand that. So there is a possibility that cannabis could be reclassified but the powers of arrest could be retained. Is that possible?
  (Vic Hogg) It is possible. It happens with regard to other criminal offences, such as soliciting and importuning for sexual favours. It would not have a power of arrest but has been retained specifically for that offence.

Mr Cameron

  31. You seem to be the first czar in history who has been dethroned without being shot.
  (Keith Hellawell) I take some comfort in that.

  32. Do you feel you have been sidelined in the government strategy?
  (Keith Hellawell) No. My appointment was for three years in the first instance and I was very happy with those three years. I was asked to stay on for a further period and then I have been asked to stay on for an even further period in a different guise. The terms are poor, to be honest. They did not reflect in any way the job I had or the powers or responsibilities I did not have. Therefore I think, as has been portrayed, if I was there to change the world single-handedly, clearly my critics would say I failed to do that.

  33. The real question seems to me to be that I thought you were appointed because it was felt that an identifiable leadership figure was needed because drugs cut across different departments. You have gone. Who is the identifiable leadership figure now?
  (Keith Hellawell) I would say that the Home Secretary is now the Minister responsible for the whole aspect of drugs. When I was appointed, my job was to develop, with government, a strategy and we have that in place. It was to get departments of state and agencies to work together in terms of delivering against a corporate aim. It was to get the budgetary provisions for the new actions which needed to be required in schools, in treatment, in prisons and right across the piece. It was to set up some mechanism of measuring performance of those agencies and we did that. That is now embodied in mainline government business rather than being on the edge of government business. One could argue—and in fact I did in a report before the election—that perhaps the role of the co-ordinator was over because he or she, whoever that person might have been, did not have the power to make agencies deliver.

  34. So you do not think it matters that there is not one any more. Even though the Home Secretary has all these other things to do, terrorist legislation, the police, you do not think it matters that there is not one person responsible for drugs policy.
  (Keith Hellawell) Time will tell that quite frankly. Having someone who is seen as a neutral, a non-civil-servant and a non-Minister had its advantages. It had huge disadvantages though because there was no power base, there was no real support in terms of a strong Minister—no reflection on the individual Ministers who were in the Cabinet Office—but very small teams of people. There are advantages and disadvantages.

  35. I see that your role there is talking to other EU countries and applicant countries. Do you have any role in the current review of drugs policy under way?
  (Keith Hellawell) No. My role is a little broader than that, may I say. I shall read you my role: providing advice and support to the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers in delivering the drug strategy, with particular emphasis on availability and international issues. Key areas of work: promoting the need for comprehensive drugs strategies in targeted countries, including EU applicant countries; liaising with drugs co-ordinators and key advisers from other countries; visits and events in support of international strategy; helping to promote joined up working between key intelligence and enforcement agencies both nationally and internationally in accordance with government strategy on organised crime; providing other advice and support as agreed with Ministers. That is a much broader role.

  36. I noticed from other things I have read that on the cannabis front you do not believe in the gateway theory any more. You have said that publicly. Perhaps you would comment on that and say whether that had anything to do with your changed role.
  (Keith Hellawell) May I thank you for giving me the opportunity to put the record straight. I have never said that I do not believe cannabis to be a gateway drug. I saw a report in a national newspaper which was picked up by other newspapers and other commentators which suggested I changed. I have not changed. The gateway theory is one which I have always been very careful about using. What I have said is that I have not met—and I was looking at some old footage of things I was saying back in 1993—a heroin user who did not start on cannabis. However, there is no inevitability about someone who smokes cannabis being involved in heroin. That is what I have said and that is what I continue to say. I do not know where the alleged change of view came from. I had not given any interviews, I did not comment to the media, but my name was used in vain. My views have not changed over the last ten years.

Mr Malins

  37. A question on availability. Heroin comes from Afghanistan. Given the current international situation, how closely or intimately are you involved in any policy to break up, stop, disrupt, the supply of heroin from Afghanistan to the UK?
  (Keith Hellawell) I am closely involved.

  38. Could you say any more than that?
  (Keith Hellawell) Yes. My new contract starts on 8 November and I have other jobs, other interests in life besides government, but I shall be back in the swing the week after next. Almost all of our heroin comes from Afghanistan. We have been working within the strategy with the international community to put pressure on Afghanistan, to put pressure on Pakistan, to put pressure on Iran, to put pressure on the Northern States and in fact on Russia and all the nations surrounding Afghanistan to see whether we can impact on that country. Our relationships with the Taleban—and I am talking prior to 11 September—have clearly been very difficult because of the disgraceful nature of that regime. As a matter of personal interest, I was in Peshawar one day looking in these gun shops and two women were killed that day: one was stoned to death and one was beaten to death with a stick, both of them because parts of their body were displayed. The evil of that regime is quite frightening. The tragedy of course is the farmers who were having to produce these crops to supplement their livelihood and certainly ten per cent of the profit was going in to support the coffers of the Taleban in order that they could do whatever they were doing internationally. We have been working with all of those countries, working with the intelligence agencies in those countries, so we had a much more strategic overview of what was happening, working with the applicant nations, and I shall be doing more of this, to co-ordinate their activities and actions. The idea was that we put a sort of cordon sanitaire around Afghanistan, but when you go and see the terrain there you realise how difficult that is. Prior to 11 September we were looking at a scheme through the United Nations to provide support for the farmers, because crops had not been grown in part of Afghanistan for the last season. We were hoping that through an Iranian initiative, supported by the international community, we would be able to continue with that. Of course the situation has now changed and I suspect very much that very little heroin is grown at the moment.


  39. During my brief visit to government, when I was at the Department for International Development, I saw reports saying that in fact the Taleban in the last year or two had been destroying the opium crop in line with what we were asking them to do.
  (Keith Hellawell) They have said for the last two or three years that they would stop the crop, reduce the crop, reduce the supply and put pressure on the farmers to do that. As an international community we were very sceptical about that. A team of observers went in there early this year, including someone from this country, to observe that in fact no crops had been grown. Cynically, because of the drought, people felt that perhaps the drought contributed to it. Of course we are satisfied that there are stockpiles. I would regard myself as a cynic and the problem we have is that they may be obtaining international money in support of their legitimate enterprises using their stockpiles to maintain the market flow and then go back to the old habits once the stockpiles have gone.

1   See Appendix, Ev 221-3. Back

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