Examination of Witnesses: (Questions 20
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
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 EMCDDAI am sure you know what that stands for
even if I do notwhich 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
(Vic Hogg) We have some statistics which show that
since the change in policy in Hollandand 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
23. Can you let us have a note about that?
(Sue Killen) Yes.
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.
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
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.
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
(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
(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
argueand in fact I did in a report before the electionthat
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 Ministerno reflection on the individual
Ministers who were in the Cabinet Officebut 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
(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 metand
I was looking at some old footage of things I was saying back
in 1993a 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.
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
(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 Talebanand I am talking prior to 11 Septemberhave
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
(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
1 See Appendix, Ev 221-3. Back