Examination of Witnesses: (Questions 80
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
80. But not the costs on victims of crime.
(Sue Killen) No. It is that wider cost to society
which will obviously be much larger that we are trying to get
a handle on at the moment.
81. I was dealing with the cost to the NHS and
the figures are the ones I quoted which come from your own paper.
(Rosemary Jenkins) Yes, that is right but we think
they are probably under calculated because it was a small pilot
and we shall be looking at what comes out of the major study and
we shall be having a look at those figures once that study is
Chairman: I now want to turn to the core divide
between all those who attempt to address the drugs problem and
that is decriminalisation versus non-decriminalisation.
82. The Chairman has made the point that we
have reached the core essence of our terms of reference. We are
a little surprised that in the Home Office's first memorandum
there was no mention at all of decriminalisation. Was that by
default, or was that by design or some other reason perhaps?
(Sue Killen) What we focused on in the first memorandum
we gave you was an overview of the drug strategy, what we were
doing in it, things we were focusing on, amounts we were spending,
how it seemed to be going. That is our main focus: to deliver
a result on drugs. In the description of what the Committee were
going to focus on one of the issues you were going to be looking
at was an assessment of how the drugs strategy was going.
83. Our focus is very clearly on decriminalisation
as well as the areas of the investigation. We shall be using that
term quite a lot in the future. Is there such a thing as a Home
Office definition of decriminalisation? Some people refer to decriminalisation
as just a general relaxation of the regime and others are quite
specific and refer to it in terms of permitting the use of drugs
although enforcing the ban on their supply. What is your view?
(Sue Killen) It is a definition I was possibly fairly
inadequately trying to give at the beginning when we were talking
about cannabis. Decriminalisation is to retain prohibition on
the drugs but to replace criminal sanctions with civil or administrative
ones. If you go on to legalisation, you are moving it out of a
regime of sanctions completely.
84. What studies have the Home Office done to
date on the possible effects of decriminalising drugs of all classes?
(Sue Killen) Are we talking about decriminalisation
of all drugs? Our focus has been on looking at what will make
the drugs strategy more effective. At least in terms of my experience,
if you are looking at class A drugs and the really harmful drugs,
decriminalisation would only come into it tangentially rather
than being a main focus of the work we do. Our starting point
has been how to make what we are doing more effective, rather
than the debate on the types of sanctions we put into it. Obviously
we have looked at this slightly more in relation to cannabis and
we debated that issue earlier on.
85. So no study has been made at all of the
effect of decriminalisation on the use and misuse of drugs and
harmful effects of drugs.
(Sue Killen) It really does depend how you define
it, because we look at it in relation to other things. Our main
emphasis has been on looking at what is most effective and our
view is that getting people into treatment is the most effective
way of reducing offending and drug use. Therefore a system which
maximises our potential to do that is what we have been looking
86. So the answer is no.
(Sue Killen) The other issue we have looked at is
the question of what is likely to make people use more drugs.
The evidence which is there from the Police Foundation work and
the youth lifestyle survey is that the way drugs are treated does
actually influence the extent to which people might choose to
take drugs. I do not know how you take that as an answer. I would
say that we have looked at it tangentially in looking at other
things and in looking at what works in other countries and what
might work here. To my knowledge we have not sat down and done
what you might call a major separate study on decriminalisation
of all drugs including class A.
(Vic Hogg) It is fair to say that successive governments
have made clear that they regard drugs and the harm drugs cause
as extremely serious and a priority in terms of ensuring proper
control, hence the Misuse of Drugs Act and the fact that it has
been with us since 1971. There is also the point that we are signed
up to a number of UN conventions, including the 1988 convention,
like many other countries in the world, which actually states
that supply and production of defined drugs, which broadly speaking
are the ones defined in the 1971 Act and subsequent regulations,
should be a criminal offence. We have signed up to that. We have
also signed up within the same convention to the proposition that
possession should also be a criminal activity. There is a caveat
in that convention that requires states to criminalise possession,
subject to constitutional principles and basic concepts of individual
legal systems, which enables a number of countries, Italy, Spain,
Portugal not to criminalise possession of certain drugs because
it does not fit with their particular legal systems. They have
civil or administrative penalties which in fact can be quite harsh.
In Italy, for example, under their civil regime, possession of
certain drugs can lead to the confiscation of your driving licence
or passport for up to four months.
87. We appear to be in denial here, do we not?
There is a huge debate raging in the outside world on whether
decriminalisation is or is not a good thing. I appreciate that
it is one which politicians are notoriously reluctant to address,
but it does embrace lots of serious people, including chief constables,
some of whom come down on one side some on the other. Although
you have obviously given considerable thought to the drugs policy,
you have not even addressed this, have you?
(Sue Killen) Obviously the earlier answer I gave was
interpreted in that way. I think it does. In focusing on what
works you need to look at all the options. One of the things we
do do is spend a lot of time consulting the field and talking
to people out there who are actually dealing with this on a day-to-day
basis. An issue which is raised with us would be classification
in relation to cannabis, but decriminalisation in general and
particularly of class A is not something which is routinely raised
88. It is being routinely raised with you now.
Have you seen our terms of reference?
(Sue Killen) I have seen your terms of reference.
89. I should like to think they were the starting
point for your evidence. Do you have them in front of you?
(Sue Killen) I have such a mass of information but
I am sure I have them here somewhere.
90. Let me help you. Point one which we dealt
with at some length: does existing drugs policy work? Your evidence
certainly addresses that. Point two: what would be the effect
of decriminalisation on (a) the availability of and demand for
drugs (b) drug-related deaths and (c) crime? Does your evidence
address that at all? It is there. It is number two on the list.
There are only three points there.
(Sue Killen) We did give you a brief further note
which looked at decriminalisation just in general terms.
91. Point three: is decriminalisation desirable
and, if not, what are the practical alternatives? Do you think
that is addressed?
(Sue Killen) All I would say is that our emphasis
has been on looking at what does actually work and decriminalisation
is obviously an issue one looks at in relation to that. I can
give you evidence based on the analytical work which has taken
place in government which is obviously based on work which we
have been asked to do in relation to policy development. That
is what I am able to do.
92. You do not think you ought even to address
this debate going on in the outside world, if only in order to
rebut the assertions being made.
(Sue Killen) We have an open mind. We are constantly
looking at what would be more effective in terms of delivering
the drugs strategy.
(Keith Hellawell) To address the question straight
on, I know of no comprehensive study to look at the effects of
decriminalisation of all drugs. I know of none in this country.
That is my first, straight answer. The second point on the definition
of decriminalisation, is that there is some definition in these
papers. There is no internationally accepted definition of decriminalisation
which makes it a very difficult area in which to operate when
speaking to other countries. Perhaps people's perceptions of what
has happened in some of our EU colleagues' countries on decriminalisation
has been to bring their systems in line with our systems. This
may well surprise you, but the constitutional position of the
police service here allows discretion by every police officer.
The constitutional position in most of the other European countries
does not allow that discretion. It is either a criminal offence
or an administrative offence.
93. Many serious people who have had to come
to grips with the drugs epidemic have come to the conclusion,
rightly or wrongly and it may well be that we shall prove they
are wrong but they have reached the conclusion, that the best
way forward is to collapse the criminal market that exists and
the way to do that is to decriminalise. I do not say whether they
are right or wrong. The purpose of having the inquiry is to try
to belie that point but if nobody will even address it among the
official witnesses, how are we going to proceed?
(Keith Hellawell) There is just one thing. The work
I did on behalf of government following the Police Foundation
report did look seriously at the recommendations of the Police
Foundation report and did look at the consequences in respect
of cannabis of a full range from status quo through to
what you are describing as decriminalisation of that drug. I have
not seen the product of that work, but that work was going on
with the Association of Chief Police Officers and all the interested
agencies specifically in relation to cannabis.
94. I think we are talking about a great deal
more than cannabis.
(Keith Hellawell) Forgive me, but I am talking in
terms of answering your question that work has been looked at
following the Police Foundation report in relation to cannabis.
Chairman: I come back to the point I made earlier.
I understand that politicians are traditionally very wary of this
area but one of the advantages of select committees is that they
can occasionally think the unthinkable, or at least address the
unthinkable, hence points two and three out of three in our terms
of reference. You may want to go away and consider whether in
some written evidence the Home Office wants to address points
two and three in our terms of reference in rather more detail
than it has so far and perhaps take on a few of the arguments
which are going on in the outside worldand we all know
what they areand rebut them if that is the appropriate
95. It may need the recommendations of this
Committee, whatever they may be, to press or encourage the Home
Office to carry out that study. May I probe a little deeper? Before
us we have five experts in the field of drug taking, drugs misuse,
etcetera. If you have not conducted your own inquiry, you will
certainly have recognised other documentation and inquiries made
by other agencies, not all coming up with the same conclusions
but a lot of them pressing for this whole issue, this movement
towards deregulation or decriminalisation. I do not know, I am
new to the Committee, but if you are allowed to give a personal
view, with your background and expertise, would there be any comments
coming from any of the witnesses on the possible merits of decriminalising
any of the classes of drugs?
(Vic Hogg) I should like to return to the position
that successive governments have said that controlled drugs cause
enormous harm, not only to the users but to the communities where
drug misuse causes social nuisance. This is seen as a particularly
serious problem. Against that background, we, certainly in my
time, have not been asked to undertake any detailed study of the
impact of decriminalisation. It is fair to say, other than small
groups with a vested interest, nobody has said that drugs should
be decriminalised. The last major piece of work was the Police
Foundation report which did not argue for decriminalisation in
any shape or form. We have to concentrate our efforts where there
is clear evidence of what works. We have obviously looked at what
has happened in other parts of the world; South Australia has
been mentioned where they moved to civil penalties. The fact is
that it has proved very difficult to recover the penalties; only
50 per cent or so of penalties are actually recovered, therefore
that system falls into disrepute if people can ignore the particular
sanctions. I mentioned earlier some statistics on the Dutch experience
where there has been growth in the prevalence of cannabis smoking
over the years since they changed their policy. This goes back
some years to the 1970s. Alaska decriminalised but had quickly
to change their position because what they found was that more
and more youngsters were experimenting. That is the factual answer
to the question you are asking. I am not aware of any evidence
coming forward supporting the arguments of the people who have
argued for decriminalisation.
Mr Prosser: I am not advocating decriminalisation,
but I just wanted to ask questions. Perhaps I shall stop there
because without the background of a study, it is difficult to
get a view.
96. I am an amateur in this field as well. Did
any of our witnesses read a series of forthright articles by Nick
Davies in the Guardian?
(Sue Killen) Yes, and I saw the programme.
97. That would be an obvious starting place,
would it not? If we were going to rebut assertions which you may
regard as outrageous, that would be the obvious starting point.
(Sue Killen) That is why I am saying that this comes
back to the core of how to deal effectively with drugs. Issues
which were being looked at there were how to deal effectively
with people who have drugs problems and in the articles I read
he was particularly looking at heroin. We believe that we do need
to have effective policies in order to deal with people who are
in that situation. That is why we have introduced arrest referral,
drug treatment and testing orders and are rapidly expanding drug
treatment services. The emphasis has to be on getting people into
effective drug treatment. Another issue which Nick Davies raised
which has also led to commentary is this idea that if people are
committing crimes in order to feed their drug habit, because I
would empathise that an awful lot of people who are drug users
come into contact with the criminal justice system not because
they are found in possession of drugs, but because they are arrested
for acquisitive crime. Because of the very, very strong linkage
between class A drugs and acquisitive crime, these people will
still come into the criminal justice system. One of the things
he looks at and people have commented on is the greater use of
prescribed heroin. There can be arguments for saying, if people
are going out there to engage with the criminal world in order
to buy heroin, why not just give them heroin and then they will
not do it? There is also almost an emphasis in these articles
on the idea that methadone treatment was done for moral reasons
rather than for reasons of effective treatment, as though we would
not give people heroin and we were giving them methadone because
we had an objection to giving them heroin. The thing I would emphasise
there is that methadone treatment works; the reason people are
being given methadone is because the national treatment outcome
research and other research shows that it works. The other thing
is that you have to understand how addiction works. Methadone
stays in people's systems for much longer. It is therefore an
effective way of getting chaotic responses, chaotic lives under
control. If you are giving people heroin, you are still getting
them into a system where their addictive behaviour remains. If
you have a shot of heroin, you react to it immediately, then you
go down again. You need more, so you need far more during the
course of the day. If you are involved in addictive behaviour,
if I were to give you prescribed heroin, you may well go out into
the street and actually buy something else to top it up because
you are addicted. The amount you are given as part of a prescription
will not necessarily satisfy you. As the Home Secretary said last
week, we want to look at whether or not we should be doing more
in terms of making use of prescribed heroin and we have set up
a consensus event in order to do that. If I had the opportunity
to sit and debate these issues with Nick Davies, the points I
would make would be the ones I have made. Methadone treatment
works and it is not as straightforward as giving prescribed heroin
to people because what you are dealing with here is addictive
and chaotic behaviour.
98. One of Mr Davies' arguments was that heroin
itself is not particularly damaging but impure heroin, polluted
by dealers is and that most of the deaths which arise come from
adulterated heroin on sale on the black market. Is that true or
(Sue Killen) My understanding of it is that the majority
of deaths in relation to heroin result from overdose and injecting
and sharing. That is a much bigger problem than anything to do
with contamination. That is the reason why we are emphasising
a harm minimisation strand. This is it. What can we do that works?
(Rosemary Jenkins) There is a very common misconception
that we do not have heroin prescribing in this country and this
is rather highlighted by the fact that the Swiss have been doing
trials on heroin prescribing. The fact is actually very different
from that. We have had heroin prescribing for drug dependence
in this country since the 1920s and by the 1960s it was quite
widespreadly available for people who wanted treatment. The change
which happened in the 1960s-1970s and the change to prescribing
methadone was based on clinical decisions that in fact the research
that came forward suggested that methadone was a much better drug
to create stability and therefore enable people to get back to
some sort of a normal existence, to be able to get a job again
and to be able to sort the housing out. The switch to methadone
programmes was based on the fact that it was seen and continues
to be seen within the research as a much better drug for people
to manage their dependence. There is still a small group of people
for whom the range of treatments available have been tried and
still they have had no success. At the moment in this countryand
I stress it is based on the clinical decisions of the doctors
who are looking after these patientsabout 300 are receiving
injectable heroin through the prescribed and therefore legal route
to receive that heroin. The Swiss trials only made an assessment
in Switzerland of the position which is currently adopted in this
country. There are some differences in the way the heroin is given
out, but it was only a look to see whether they should have heroin
prescribing within their total range of treatments. Sue has said,
and I agree with her, that 300 may be the right number. It may
be that when we look at it more closely we did not make it available
to anyone else because clinically methadone is a better drug for
them. We do know that there is some geographical variability in
the availability of injectable heroin, so what we plan to do in
the new year is to bring together people who do prescribe it.
They are the experts in knowing how they make that decision with
99. Did we make a mistake in 1970 when we switched
from prescription to a ban? Is that not what created the black
(Rosemary Jenkins) We do not have a ban. I am not