Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 295 - 299)



  Chairman: Gentlemen good morning. Thank you for coming. This is the fourth session of oral evidence we have taken on our drugs inquiry. We have had over 160 written submissions, many of them flatly contradictory. We are hoping you are going to help us pick our way through them this morning. We have decided to proceed a bit differently from how we normally do which is to start by putting three questions to each of you and then taking it from there. If any of you disagree with what is being said indicate to me and I will bring you in. Can we play it like that? Bridget Prentice is going to start the ball rolling.

Bridget Prentice

  295. I am going to address my questions to ACPO, first of all. Looking through the evidence that you and others have submitted, a number of people are saying things like f you were to ask the question is the Government's drugs policy working, then the answer seems to be `the results are not coming through', `the battle against drug misuse in the case of heroin has been lost', `they are fighting a losing battle', and so on. So is the drugs policy working?
  (Mr Hayman) You will have seen from our written submission that ACPO's view is that it is working, providing you can describe what success would look like. We have got to look at it by saying there is a long-term strategy and, therefore, if you are expecting overnight results, you will be disappointed. Some of the points you mentioned there give the impression from others that have given evidence that they are looking for short-term results. It is too early to throw the towel in about heroin, or any other drug come to that. Having said that, we have said in our written submission that we feel it is too early to say that the results are coming through. What I would say has been particularly successful is for the first time it has set out in a strategic format how together—and it is a partnership activity—to tackle the very broad problem of drugs. What are the pluses, why are we saying it is working? The pluses are that partnership working is thriving. It has given us a framework to work together. We have now got structures in place in the UK, co-ordinaters. The last two reports shine through the way in which the structures are starting to bite. We should also be very pleased as agencies to see the resources that have been released by both government and by working together. That is obviously welcomed. The other plus I think, which again is all credit to the strategy, is the response to feedback from other agencies that we really need to be setting baseline data from which we can then measure success in the medium to long term. That is an issue which we feel as ACPO has been missing. In summary, the pluses are that it has been a very strong harnessing of effort. The downsides of the strategy are that disappointingly—and I guess in a way it is not surprising—we still operate at times in silos, so we have not got the joined-up thinking across statutory departments. Again over time I think that will work. Another significant point would be that performance indicators do not seem to reflect the activity of each agency and closely akin to that is the priority setting. We make the point in our written submission that ACPO feels it is not surprising that when you have got PIs in different agencies that are not always focused towards drugs you will not necessarily reflect the activity. The example we gave in the evidence is that it may be a more pressing priority for health to deal with reduction in waiting times and for education to deal with reduction in class sizes and whilst that is not in any way us being critical, because they are understandable pressing priorities, when you are looking at performance data across the piece on the drugs agenda the prominence of PIs for other agencies are not equal to those of the Police Service. In conclusion, it is not bad news to say they are disadvantages and downsides because they are easily rectified and ACPO suggests in our submission that by bringing in joint performance indicators and joint funding streams, some of the silo working and barriers that exist could be broken down. I think statutory agencies should take heart from those in the voluntary sector (and the partnership working we have described as being a plus point) as a strong indicator of what can be achieved.

  296. Does anybody want to violently disagree with that?
  (Mr Ledger) I think perhaps from another perspective and working at a different end of the spectrum from where Andy is talking about, we have concerns that with the offenders we work with there is little evidence of improvement in the way the system or the strategy is working out. Clearly a significant proportion of our caseload are people with drug problems and particularly those at the lower end of the scale, you might say people on the receiving end of supply rather than being in any way significant players in the system. I am going to pick up from what Andy said, and I think it is more significant than he indicated, the availability of resources to people who are using and who commit offences and who are known to us is a significant problem. We are not able to get people into detox and rehabilitation programmes at anything like the rate or number or speed that we would need to do in order to effect some real change in the people we work with. The other problem is—and we will probably come onto this—that in the context of their accountability and our accountability to the courts through court orders and things like that, people are constantly being returned to court, not necessarily for criminal behaviour but because of their failure to comply with orders, and that can disrupt the process of treating or dealing with people. From our end of the scale, and as I say I am talking from a different perspective to Andy, I think we have concerns that the strategy is not working as well as it could.
  (Mr Howard) Can I endorse what ACPO was saying about the good things in the strategy but add a couple of things on the downside. I think there are two or three things that we need to consider. One is the performance targets that have been set in the national strategy. A lot of us would share the criticism and critique of them being based on a fairly thin and flimsy starting point and evidence base. Secondly I think we have got to recognise that they are over-prescriptive and centralised and there needs to be a lot more local flexibility in their interpretation in meeting local needs. I think another thing I would say is we cannot get away from the fact that the balance in this strategy is still very much around enforcement, supply and interdiction and that is reflected in the allocation of resources. One must ask questions whether that is a fair distribution and the most effective distribution. The last point I would make is about prevalence. If the outcome of the strategy is being judged by prevalence figures, I think there must be serious questions about what is happening. Today, just an hour ago the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction released its annual report and it shows that the United Kingdom is the one country in Western Europe that has seen a rise in cocaine use amongst young people. So we must ask questions about whether the strategy is effective in what it is achieving.

  297. Thank you for that. I am going to return to Mr Hayman, my colleagues will, I dare say, pick up those points from the rest of you later. You have said there are many positive aspects and some negative, based more it seems to me on process than anything else. What changes would you make if you were making changes in the strategy as it presently stands?
  (Mr Hayman) I think it is important to stress the strength of the process. Some people might be critical of that and say "we really need to see results and let's not mess around with doing the process and setting structures." Of course, we know from the past when we have bowled into this and looked for activity rather than planning beforehand, it has not achieved what we want to achieve. For me I would tend to put more emphasis on the process. I do not think we have done enough yet. The point I made earlier is structurally we have set out the stall and we understand what we want to do in partnership working but we have not bound together those partnerships and statutory agencies as well. The only way to do that, it seems to me, a bit like herding sheep into a pen, is what have we got to do to make sure that work will happen. At the moment there is a little saying which I think we are all familiar with, "if it is not measured, it will not happen". Therefore, if you have not got performance indicators around all the agencies that are involved in this agenda what is the driver for them to be able to even be getting engaged in it? Equally, if there is no analysis of how much benefit we have gained from the resource investment, there is no driver there for people to be wise about how to spend and use their resources. For me, if I had to put at the top of my shopping list what I would want to introduce, I would put in joint performance indicators, joint funding streams and a very robust performance analysis as well. Picking up on what Roger was saying, and I am glad he made the point, I was remiss in not making it myself (albeit it was in written evidence) we see that the targets can be demoralising if they are not set out on true baseline data. Therefore, if we are clear in our process setting, we know what the baseline data is to set our target, we negotiate those targets with the agencies, we set the performance indicaters from which they will be successfully measured, we align their spending to their activity and then someone, a body, holds people to account at the end of a set period for what they have achieved, I think that people who are, quite understandably, looking for results not only will start to be able to make judgments such as are we getting fair activity for the efforts and resources we are releasing and be able to judge that by performance indicators as well as any other activity. This is not a cheap shot but I think it is an important point to make. The challenge will be, if you look at page 3 of the ten-year strategy, there are some very bold signatures there from all the agencies that are signing up to collaborative working. I think the agencies will ask the question to what extent are those signals mirrored in activity and I think in answer to your question, although I have not majored on it, that is the most important thing.

  298. Thank you for that. Can I just ask you this, because we have made an assumption that drug-taking is wrong, it is bad, we do not like it, and that is presumably the basis of the strategy, and we have assumed that in the course of the questions so far, but what do you think would be the effects of either decriminalisation or legalisation of these drugs? If you can, can you tell the Committee if you have a different view on cannabis, from ecstasy, from heroin, from cocaine or whether you take an overall view?
  (Mr Hayman) One of the difficulties around trying to develop the thinking on this is to understand what all these terms mean. They are really confusing, not only for the community but confusing for the professionals in the field. What do we mean by "decriminalisation", "legalisation", "declassification"? I find myself slipping into the wrong term and checking myself out. At the moment let's not worry too much about that because we know it is a very difficult debate. Let's go back to basics. From ACPO's perspective we want to be really clear on three points, firstly, whatever we do—legalisation, decriminalisation, declassification—why are we doing it? What is the purpose of doing that? Let's be clear about that. When we are clear about what the purpose is let's scan the evidence to support either way the arguments, what is the evidence like, and that needs to be very broad—scientific, medical, as well as legal. Finally, what are the consequence? ACPO feel that one of the disappointments in all this discussion is that the clarity—I am sure there are other headings but we see those three headings as particular helpful— we would be looking for under these three headings is absent. Let's answer the question boldly. Decriminalisation—the terms of reference have highlighted three areas, the effect it may or may not have on crime, other drugs' availability, and deaths. Some headlines from ACPO's perspective. On other drugs the indications elsewhere are that once you go down this road, which has to be said is a bit of a step in the dark, usage is likely to increase around experimentation. Why are people passing away from drug misuse? Certainly around heroin the indication is that it is overdose. To what extent would any decriminalisation of whatever drug (but certainly class A drugs) avert that? We think on balance it would make no difference, it may even increase it. On crime we know the arguments about drug-related crime. It may well follow if usage increases there is not going to be any indication of a reduction of acquisitive crime; on the contrary. In the round, certainly talking about the class A drugs, the serious drugs, this is something we have been very strong in our evidence—we would not support legalisation. On declassification, if you would like me to move on to that, certainly a lot of focus has been made on the Home Secretary's announcements and from ACPO's perspective we understand why we are doing that reclassification but going back to our three touchstones, what is the purpose, what is the evidence, what are the consequences, it would be very good if we could have a debate about it. Our understanding of the Home Secretary's intention is that it will enable resources to be freed up to focus more on the class A drugs. That does not necessarily follow. Very pragmatically if you look at the police officers that deal with cannabis, they are normally, I would say, street cops who come across that kind of offence or that usage. There is a different set of police officers that deal with class A drugs. I was interested to read recently in the Rowntree Foundation's emerging findings (and I know they will be reporting in the life of this Committee so it might be something the Committee wants to look at) the indication there from research is that any freeing up of time is more likely to be eaten away in patrol time—which again is a plus to the community because it increases the visibility of the patrol but it does not necessarily follow it would go into class A. The last point that ACPO would want to pick up of course is the emotive debate about the transferring of powers. If you go back to the touchstones and ask the question why is it we would want to be reclassifying cannabis, which is the main debate at the moment, if we transfer the powers which Parliament have given us, it would not necessarily free up time. The downside of that, of course, is that the opportunities that exist currently with drugs being an arrestable offence and the opportunities that exist within that which Parliament have given us around arrestable offences would be lost. In summary, let us be clear about what the terms are. We are pretty clear about our views on decriminalisation and legalisation. We feel that is a step in the dark and all the indications are that it will not improve things at all. We are fairly relaxed about declassification but there is a discussion to be had around transfer of powers.

  299. That is very interesting but the Chair of your Drugs Committee has called for ecstasy to be classified. Do you not go along with that?
  (Mr Hayman) I am the Chair.

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