Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1380 - 1399)



  1380. Supposing someone walked out of a chemist having got his fix and murdered someone on the street?
  (Mr Gillespie) Chairman, people walk out of pubs and murder people, as we know. What I am saying is that once you are in control of supply, you are in charge of the quality of that supply. We do not go into pubs and drink 150 per cent neat alcohol. We drink alcohol that has been diluted down for safety reasons.

  1381. I think the point about crack cocaine—and I am no expert in this area—is that it is not about the quantity that you drink or the quality of it. It leads to violent and unpredictable behaviour often involving guns and knives.
  (Mr Gillespie) Thank goodness that we do not have the same problem in this country as happened in America yet, but I was looking on the Internet and I noticed that the actual use of crack cocaine in America is tailing off very quickly and that very few people use it, but whether there are one or two is not the point. I still say that we, the public, should be in charge of the stuff. It is too dangerous to be left in the hands of criminals. Whether it is crack cocaine, heroin or whatever, we should be regulating this. At the moment, we are not in charge of anything, we are just reacting all the time.

Mr Cameron

  1382. I just want to ask Ms Williams about what you said with regard to residential care and how important that is. Can you identify what it is that is holding back the provision of more residential care. More money is going into the drug action teams but is there a resistance on behalf of the drug action teams to spend the money? Do they prefer methadone and getting more people through because their figures look better?
  (Ms Williams) Yes. They have already employed all the people to deliver. They already have these services in place, so it is already there. We argue that to put somebody in residential rehabilitation costs about £400 a week and to put them in prison costs £700. If you offer that rehabilitation before the crime is committed, it not only saves the user but it saves the community and the family and that seems common sense to me. The amount that our drug action team have put into residential rehabilitation is one of the highest in the north-east but we have pushed for it and it is still not enough. For other areas it is very, very low. For some of our neighbouring authorities, it is £40,000. So, in a neighbouring town with 2,000 users, you are probably going to offer five people places and that is not enough. They have already set the services up and the jobs are already in place to treat people in the community and, when you have such a high addiction rate like we have in our town, you have the subculture of heroin users. They all know each other and it is very hard for them. They might get a good day when they are committed to not use, but they bump into a friend and now and again there is a free bag for them. It is so difficult for a lot of them to get better when there is such a prevalence in our area of heroin use. To me it seems common sense, but . . .

  1383. Something you said that I thought was particularly striking was the fact that you needed to give heroin users almost a choice: for some methadone is right, for some it should be a clean amount of heroin and for others a residential course. One question that I have—I do not know who would want to answer it—is, do you find, as has been put to me by many people who know heroin users, that, in trying to help them, you have to wait until they want to be treated? It seems to me that that has a policy implication. Do you agree with that?
  (Ms Williams) You cannot help anybody unless they want to be helped but you usually find very quickly that is arrived at because (a) they cannot fund their habit and (b) their tolerance goes up so quickly and there might be a bad batch of stuff about and they cannot fund their habit any longer, so they actually do need help very soon because they cannot cope with withdrawal.
  (Mr Sims) It is the same for families as well. One of the reasons that we talk about choice from the family service perspective is that some people are ready to go to a support group, others will want a home visit, some might want to contact a help line and all those things will happen at different times and, from the user's perspective, I think one has to accept that people themselves need to know that they are ready to seek help and that the average number of interventions for treatment before it may be considered to be working can be anything up to six or seven times before anybody begins to succeed.
  (Mrs Humphreys) It is a little like smoking which is an addiction, is it not? You can nag and nag somebody to give up but they will not until they are ready and they have made that decision for themselves.

Mrs Dean

  1384. Mr Gillespie, I understand where you are coming from about legalisation but do you accept that legal drugs are sold illegally to underage children on our streets and would not the same happen if we legalised all currently illegal drugs?
  (Mr Gillespie) The only yardsticks to compare that effectively because we do not really know what is around, that is the whole point, is to look at where we can get supplies of illegal cigarettes or illegal alcohol apart from bringing it across the channel. Usually what happens is that, when these things are controlled, regulated and supplied through licensed outlets, there is no market for the black market. Black markets only exist where there is prohibition, which is why we have the massive crime problem on the streets and everywhere else. So, I am sorry, I do not agree with that. I do not think that that would be a problem at all and, if it were, it would be a minimal problem and one that could be easily dealt with.

  1385. Ms Williams, I am interested to know whether you have seen any improvements over recent years. I am glad to hear that you are on the DAT committee. Have you seen any improvements in the last couple of years or is it just not happening?
  (Ms Williams) It looks like it is starting to happen now; it looks like there are going to be improvements. We still have a way to go because it is like the experts thinking they know best and that is not the case because they have not actually had an experience of drug use on the ground of either users, families or communities and very often are very removed from that. They could be directors of social services or chief executives of the health authority and sometimes it is quite a slow process to get them to realise what is needed. Sometimes there are vested interests. Where the services are already there and sometimes not providing a good service, it is very difficult to say to a trust, "You have not provided a good service, we are taking your contract away" when a number of the people around that table work for the health authority. It is difficult because of vested interests who have a vote around the DAT table.

  1386. Following residential rehabilitation, are there facilities to follow up from that to make sure that people do not go back into drug use?
  (Ms Williams) There has not been but our local DAT is trying to get some local housing sorted out in order that they can get secondary care. No, there has not been any to date. We have not sent very many people into rehab, so we have not needed to use secondary housing care.

  1387. You talk about the need for more residential rehabilitation. Would more community rehabilitation suffice?
  (Ms Williams) No. I live in the town centre area and it is just awash with heroin users. Most of them are on crack cocaine as well, so they take crack to go up and heroin to come down. We already have crack there; there is quite a big market for crack. A lot of them cannot get clean in the community, there is too much around them, they can see it all the time. It is a very seductive drug and it is a very hard drug to kick.

  1388. Mrs Humphreys, I presume that, for your son to have gone to prison for two-and-a-half years, he was probably accused of dealing.
  (Mrs Humphreys) He was.

  1389. We have had discussions in this Committee about the number of ecstasy tablets that someone would have on them—
  (Mrs Humphreys) I know but the trouble is that the law is the law kind of thing and what it does not do is take in the circumstances of what is really happening in the world today. When students all live in a flat together, they are all in it together. These drugs were found in the sitting room and my son had taken his turn and there were 53 ecstasy tablets—it is complicated and I do not want to go into great detail—which were to last them the whole term and they were all in it together. They were not even in his room, they were in the sitting room and people took them; they only had to deal with this one phone call and that was fine. It was a shock to me but that is what they do and it is not real dealing. It does not seem to me that it is the same at all when they are all in it together and they have all made the decision and they are all intelligent human beings and that is what they are doing.

  1390. I was wondering if it was just your son with, say, 10 tablets but it was 53.
  (Mrs Humphreys) There were 53 in a pot. They had three left over when they got 12—it is complicated—and then this guy said, "These are all right, you know that they do not have a bad effect, these are really good ones" and so they made a joint decision, "Yes, that is true, we will not need any, we are going clubbing four more times in the term" and that is all they needed. They thought they were making an informed decision taking Es that they knew were OK and that they had control over. They were not heavy users and that was enough to last the house.

  1391. Just out of interest, did the rest of the people in the house also go down?
  (Mrs Humphreys) They all got carted off but my son had taken the turn and he said that right away, which of course you never should say. He pleaded guilty in that case because that is what happened and he just had to be sentenced.

  1392. He had taken a turn in purchasing?
  (Mrs Humphreys) He had taken the turn because that is what they do. That is the other thing that I learned. Virtually everybody who has taken drugs has been a supplier. By passing a joint, you are a supplier; by getting the E for your friend for that night, you are a supplier. It is social supply, it is not a wicked, horrible person corrupting our youth. It is like buying a round of drinks to them. I am not saying that I am advocating taking drugs at all and I wish they would not and I have never taken any myself, but I think we have to accept that people do and they are not bad people.

David Winnick

  1393. I wonder if I could play devil's advocate and ask you first of all whether you would describe yourselves as representative of most parents with teenage children. I want to make it clear that I am not being discourteous in any way. We have all heard what you have said and at least some of us were most moved but, playing the devil's advocate for the moment, would you say that your views are representative of most parents insofar as you can give an opinion?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I think a lot of parents are very ignorant; I know because I used to be. Like a convert, once you have found out stuff, you know . . . I think a lot of parents would rather turn a blind eye and hope that their child will not get caught and that they will grow through it. I do not think many people realise that you get sent to prison. One girl got sent to prison for giving one ecstasy tablet to her friend. I think that people do not realise that.
  (Ms Williams) I think there is less and less ignorance in our area because, in the extended family, nearly every family is touched by drugs now. So people are quickly becoming aware of the problems relating to drugs and the damage that occurs. They are fast acquiring a lot of knowledge about drugs because somebody is touched by it.
  (Mrs Humphreys) It has become much less hysterical now, has it not? Instead of drugs, bad, kill and all that, they are thinking, it is a problem, we have to deal with it, how can we help people best?
  (Ms Williams) You have to support the families, that is our community, that is the backbone of the community.

  1394. Mrs Humphreys, on page 2 of your memo to us, you say that policy makers are terrified of the electorate. That is linked to my previous question. Do you think that the policy makers, the Government and the opposition parties, take the view that there is such a view in the country as a whole against taking drugs?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I think the trouble is that the majority of people are quite ignorant. They do not know a lot about drugs and they have very fixed ideas. If you get newspapers talking about killer drugs and all these headlines, a lot of people will think, yes, this is right, and the Government might be too scared to try and make things safer or too scared to be seen to be soft on drugs because the public will not stand for it. They are afraid that the public will not stand for it. Actually I think the public could learn, they could be taught and they could understand that the problem that we have got now is because of the prohibition and if we dealt with it in a different way, we might be able to save a lot of lives and maybe stop there being the demand as well.

  1395. So you are saying in effect that the policy-makers should have more courage?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I am, absolutely. They should have much, much more courage and they should also find out and not be ignorant themselves, which I think some of them are.
  (Mr Sims) Can I respond to that first question about whether the views are representative, if that is appropriate. We work with literally hundreds of families around the country and I would say that the only way in which the views here are representative is because they are expressed with eloquence, which we find happens all the time with families that we work with, and that the views of many people who are family members are changed by the personal experience that they have had, so they might have come into the whole debate about drugs and even alcohol with a very different view from that which they end up with because of what has happened in their family and if those views have largely been ignored. I think in that sense there is a representation here, but in another sense every family we work with is of course quite different.

  1396. But the Government has moved, has it not, and supported by the main Opposition party? If you were giving evidence at the last Parliament or certainly before, you would argue that the Government of the day was indeed so terrified, supported by the then Opposition, and it did not want to move at all. In the last Parliament there was no change, the view taken by both Front Benches, but now, supported apparently by both Front Benches, there has been a change, certainly as far as cannabis is concerned. Do you welcome that and do you see that as a move towards what you were aiming to achieve?
  (Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely, but it does not go far enough because it is still sort of making criminals out of people who are not criminals. It is good, it is brilliant that they are doing anything and it does seem a very good start.

  1397. So you see it as a step forward?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I do see it as a definite step forward, but they have got to look more closely at who is really a criminal and whether it is really immoral to take drugs and whether it should be a legal thing at all. It seems to me that to give people criminal records for just being foolish and hedonistic is a terrible thing to do; it is a life sentence.

  1398. But it does not seem that there has been any sort of public disquiet or public reaction against what the Government has done.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Hardly any.

  1399. Mr Gillespie, what is your view?
  (Mr Gillespie) Chairman, can I answer that question and the one you asked before, Mr Winnick, about being representative of the public. In the two years since my son died and particularly in the first six months, I was absolutely astonished and really, really, really deeply affected by the number of people who contacted me. There was a coroner's inquest and articles in the newspapers. I have over the last two years been approached by an old Etonian landowner who has been to see me in the village pub, and who did not want to be seen talking to somebody, but whose son was in trouble. My local lawyer, my own lawyer's son, whom I knew well, who had not told me anything about it, these people had been hiding all this and bottling it all up, a local builder and various other people have come over these two years, and I am appalled at the number of people from all kinds of backgrounds who have come into contact one way or another with drugs via their children, saying, "We've done this for them, we've done that for them", every one of them feeling guilty, every one of them not knowing where to turn, every one of them being stonewalled by the system and the medical profession. That is that point. There was a second point you were asking towards the end and I have totally forgotten what it was.

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