Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1039 - 1059)




  1039. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome. As I think you all know, this is the latest in a large number of oral evidence sessions we have held in relation to our inquiry into the Government's drugs policy. We have received the best part of 200 submissions, many of them flatly contradictory, and we are attempting to pick our way through those with the help of our witnesses. Mr Broughton we know well, but the other members of the panel, we do not. Can I just ask you to say for the record who you are and whom you represent.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I am Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Director of the Royal Institution.

  1040. And you have got to leave early, is that right?
  (Baroness Greenfield) Sadly, I have to leave at half past eleven.

  1041. Mrs Brett?
  (Mrs Brett) I am a biology teacher and head of health education at Dr Challoner's Grammar

  School in Amersham, which is a large state grammar school for boys.

  1042. How did you come to take an interest in the Government's drugs policy?
  (Mrs Brett) Well, I am responsible for health education in the school and that obviously includes drugs education. Just over the years that I have done this, I have got more and more involved in finding out the scientific evidence.

  1043. And Mr Raynes?
  (Mr Raynes) I am a retired Assistant Chief Investigation Officer from Customs & Excise, so I did 37 years mostly concerned with drugs enforcement, so if there is an area of expertise I have, it is on the supply side. I have become engaged with the National Drug Prevention Alliance. They approached me to join their Executive Council and I have done that. The reason I did that was, having spent a lifetime thinking about it, I am convinced that demand reduction is the main way which we have to deal with the drugs issue and I do not think enough has been done about it.

  1044. So you were in the front-line in trying to address the problem of drugs?
  (Mr Raynes) Yes, most of my working life.

  1045. Up until when?
  (Mr Raynes) I retired the year before last, so I have been retired for about 18/19 months.

  1046. And up until that time you were?
  (Mr Raynes) I was Assistant Chief Investigation Officer finally in Customs, but I have been through the mill in every area of Customs' activity with 25 years or so in investigations.

  1047. Can you tell us about the National Drug Prevention Alliance?
  (Mr Raynes) Yes, it is a bit of a fraud my being here as my expertise is in enforcement in particularly heroin, but the Director is Peter Stoker and he cannot be here as he is in America, so you may ask me questions about prevention, but that is not my area of expertise. There are some papers before you which I have given this morning which may help. If you ask me a question about prevention which I cannot answer, perhaps we could reply in writing. The National Drug Prevention Alliance is an alliance; it does not do work itself or very little work, but it is an alliance of interested parties and it is a constituency, not a membership group, but a constituency of about 10 million people, parents, teachers, et cetera.

  1048. Rather a large claim.
  (Mr Raynes) It is and that is what I have been told to say by Peter. The Parent Teacher Associations are aligned with the NDPA. It does a lot of good work; it gives a lot of advice to various areas of government and it tries to rebut a lot of the wilder claims about drugs, so bear with me if I do not know the answers.

  1049. How is it funded?
  (Mr Raynes) It has been funded by the National Lottery Charities Board and various other charities. We struggle frankly and the prevention side of the work in the drugs field does struggle and perhaps we will get into that.

  Chairman: Thank you. Can we start with some questions about the existing drugs policy and whether it works or not.

Mrs Dean

  1050. How should we measure the success of the drugs policy and, in particular, what is the more important target of drugs policy, the overall prevalence or the harm caused by drugs?
  (Mr Raynes) I have given you separate written evidence in my own right and in that I talk about the prevalence of drugs. Less than 5 per cent of the population use drugs for a lifetime and one of my measures is the prevalence of lifetime use of drugs. We know a lot of people experiment with drugs, but lots of people experiment with cigarettes and that is how I measure success: is society full of people taking drugs? Actually it is not. The impression you get from some of the witnesses you have had is that it is, but it is not in fact.

  1051. So can you go a little bit deeper on the success of the drugs policy or not?
  (Mr Raynes) The current drugs policy, the original strategy as devised a couple of years ago, in our view and the NDPA's view was a very good document. It has been undermined by several things which have happened, and not least David Blunkett's statement about cannabis has undermined it, the Police Foundation's report has undermined it and, quite honestly, I warn you against this in my written evidence, that what the Committee says is capable of undermining it because the signals which are given out are very important to young people.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I am interested in your distinction between prevalence and harm. I think this is a very important distinction and perhaps one which we could explore a bit now. My concern, and I am restricting my comments to the actions of drugs on the brain, it is not so much that a drug will necessarily kill you or even cause you to go into a hospital or a mental hospital, which you might define as harm, but more that it might change your mindset, your attitude to life. Now, you might not perceive that as harmful, but it could be perceived as harmful if you are performing less well than you would have done or if you are fulfilling yourself less well than you would have done, so I think we have to be very cautious in drawing what might seem like a very clear distinction because I would like to argue at some stage, if the questions so go, that for an individual the harm might be much more subliminal than you think.

  1052. We have had witnesses who have suggested that we ought to be concentrating more on preventing harm than prevalence. Would you like to comment on that?
  (Baroness Greenfield) Well, I think it is a very grey area where one becomes the other.

  1053. Mr Raynes, in your evidence you have suggested that the current drugs policy is "containing matters". What evidence have you got to that effect?
  (Mr Raynes) When I retired, I thought that the matter was contained. I did not agree with the policy for Customs not to work on cannabis and that is in my written evidence. I thought that was the first step in undermining the government strategy. I do not think that the Committee that decided that took a holistic view of the whole position in the UK, considering the interaction between the taking of one drug and the taking of another. The first drug is tobacco to me and the second one is alcohol, so I think it is a whole holistic view of substance misuse which I like to coin. Sorry, I lost my track then.

  1054. What evidence is there that the drugs policy is "containing matters"?
  (Mr Raynes) I think it was containing it then, but I do not think it is now. I think as a result of that change on cannabis and subsequently the changes even since David Blunkett made his announcement to you, things are dramatically changing and these signals are damaging the whole Government's drug effort. I think it has been terribly damaging. The Police Foundation report in itself, and it has nothing to do with the police of course, but it apparently does and the public and the media have played upon that.

  1055. Do you all agree with that statement?
  (Mr Broughton) There is anecdotal evidence in south London that the change in the procedures at this stage on cannabis is encouraging more people to come into that area and more people to involve themselves with cannabis. There is again anecdotal evidence that the more serious matters, the crack abusers and the crack dealers, are becoming more visible and more active. Now, I use the word carefully, "anecdotal", because there is all sorts of research going on into what is going on in south London. There is, for instance, a questionnaire of all police officers in that area currently being undertaken to find out exactly what police officers are thinking and what their perceptions are about the way those procedures are working, but in terms of containment, I do not think what is the current practice in south London and Lambeth is reducing the number of people that are either using cannabis or using other drugs. In fact the reverse seems to be true. It is true in that police officers are dealing with more people under the new procedures, dealing with more cases of cannabis under the new procedures and they are more active in terms of the way they are dealing with crack users or other drugs, so one could argue, as I think the Superintendent who gave evidence to you did, that by focusing on what is considered to be more important drug matters is more effective. Your question is the more interesting one, is it containing it or is it improving the state of the community or the state or the quality of life. I am not hearing any evidence on that.
  (Mrs Brett) I have no very, very up-to-date figures on children. My main concern is about children as a schoolteacher and I have no up-to-date figures, but I do believe that the proportion of children becoming involved with drugs is going down very slightly, but it is not quickly enough in my mind. There are two reasons for that and later this morning I would like to expand on these two reasons. One is that children are not being told the truth about cannabis at all and, secondly, they are getting the wrong type of drug education. Most children are getting completely the wrong type of drug education and I would like to see these points addressed later.

  Chairman: Yes, we are going to come on to that later.

Mrs Dean

  1056. Lastly, until the recent announcement then, in general you felt that the Government's policy was basically right, but are there changes which you would like to see to improve the effectiveness?
  (Mr Raynes) We spoke about the education system and the White Paper set out a ten-year strategy to help young people resist drug misuse in order to achieve their full potential. The NDPA feel that not enough has gone into that and there were a lot of mixed messages which have been going out over the last two years since the strategy, which actually we thought was fine, was defined to prevent drug-related anti-social and criminal behaviour. Those two first strands of the strategy, the NDPA does not feel have been addressed as well as they might and there is a difference between education and preventive education. Just plain education, teaching people about drugs, I mentioned in my written submission to you the Lifeline stuff, and the Lifeline stuff reads as if the worst thing about using drugs is getting caught. Well, that is not the worst thing about using drugs and I hope the Committee will see that.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I have spoken to lots of schools about drugs and I always start off by saying that I am not in any authority to give moral judgments to them, but I just want to give them the facts and then I explain how drugs work and how this might change how your brain is configured and, therefore, how it might change the kind of person you are. I get very good feedback from both the parents and the children that this is something that they actually find convincing and persuasive. Moreover, I have actually spoken in Brixton Prison where I was invited by the inmates because they said, "Did you know there is lots of drug-related crime here? We are interested" and so on and there again I was amazed that no one had explained to them, and I got into a very interesting dialogue even at Brixton as to nature and nurture and how the brain works and so on. I feel there is a huge need there and if money could be put into just explaining to people in a very neutral way how drugs work for them which helps them make a decision at least rather than being seduced into life, I think that would be a wonderful thing.

David Winnick

  1057. Mr Broughton, perhaps I could ask you arising from what you have stated to my colleague Mrs Dean, are you in favour of the more relaxed policy being adopted by the police in the Lambeth area of London?
  (Mr Broughton) The answer to that is not clear, as all the answers to these questions are not clear. The drugs problem itself is a very complex set of individual problems. I think in preparing our written evidence and for this meeting here this morning, we have been trying to talk to as many officers as we can to try and get a feel for what the practitioner is saying on the street.

  1058. Including police officers in Lambeth?
  (Mr Broughton) Yes. The theory of this is fascinating and we have all been trying to think out of the box and work out what exactly these radical options are and what they mean in practice. It is a very sound methodology to go and speak to people that are actually doing this job and find out what their perceptions are about the people who are involved and about the practices and the system. There is a mixed reaction. There initially was great confusion about what this pilot was doing. It obviously falls in line with what the Home Secretary has said about the reclassification from C to B of cannabis and the pilot policy in Lambeth was about trying to refocus police attention on to more serious drug cases as we perceive them. The immediate reaction, interestingly, in the schools, and I spoke to some school liaison officers, the immediate reaction from headteachers and teaching staff was that they perceived that there was a decriminalisation of cannabis taking place in Lambeth and, therefore, it would no longer be an offence. Well, that was not quite true. The children themselves I think in that particular area of London, one could, I think, reasonably say, because that is what people said to me, understand the cannabis culture in that part of London. There is a cannabis culture in that part of London and they perceived, young people perceived that this was decriminalisation of cannabis and cannabis was okay. Now, that was not the case and there was a lot of explanation at schools and there needed to be a lot of explanation to the police officers themselves about how this procedure was going to work. It was a complex procedure. In some ways it diverted police time from going to the police station with an arrest for personal use, but it also caused some bureaucratic issues about the way they were going to handle it, the way they were seizing the drugs, the cannabis, and it is fair to say that there was some confusion and still is some confusion about exactly what is going on. It is alleged, as I say anecdotally, that there are more people openly now smoking cannabis in and around the town centre. A police officer spoke to me the other day and he said, "A year or so ago you would walk along streets in Lambeth and people would be hiding from you in relation to cannabis. Now they are openly smoking cannabis". The issue of attempting to get a grip of the cocaine trading that is going on in that area is a focus and some are saying that that is confusing between those that are using and dealing in cannabis and those that are using and dealing in cocaine. So I cannot specifically say to you that we, the Police Federation, support that pilot at the moment. We are very interested in what I said earlier, that every police officer in that area is being asked a series of questions, and I think a consultancy company is assisting local commanders, to really test out exactly how these procedures are working and I think all of us should be prepared to listen to those practitioners in the field and find out whether this is a good idea or a bad idea, is it working in practice, and, I think more importantly, is the signal that it sends a good or a bad signal. My personal view and I think the view of many is, as David Raynes said, that the signal which has been sent in relation to that pilot and in the reclassification from B to C of cannabis is that cannabis is okay, and cannabis is certainly not okay. The evidence is pretty conclusive that it is a major problem.

  1059. That is a very considerate answer and a thoughtful one indeed. You see, we got the impression, and I say "we", at least I got the impression, and quite likely so did my colleagues around the table as well, that when we heard evidence from a very senior police officer who operates in the Lambeth area that it was your members, rank-and-file police officers, who considered that this was a right policy simply because it faced the reality of the situation. Indeed in your own written evidence to us, you say, in reference to what has been happening, "This recognises the reality of the current situation and takes note of the more relaxed attitudes of a significant section of the population".
  (Mr Broughton) What I am referring to there is what is the current police practice prior to the Lambeth pilot where cannabis personal use was not going to court basically. It was an offence one was arrested for and probably would be cautioned for. Some five or ten years ago that was not the case, so the police service, in the spirit of policing by consent, recognised that society perhaps was not taking personal use of cannabis as seriously as it did some years before, so what was happening was that the Crown Prosecution Service and the police were basically agreeing to caution for personal use. What the south London pilot has done is to move really dramatically beyond that and not to arrest people for possession of cannabis, but basically to seek a name and address and, first of all, to reduce the power of arrest and to reduce the punishment that is available under that category, which again was a move forward from the position of the police service and the CPS exercising the right to caution in certain offences of personal use, low quantities.

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