Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1460 - 1480)



  1460. You would not have an age limit?
  (Ms Williams) I would leave that to the doctor to decide on clinical grounds. It would have to be decided on clinical grounds.

  1461. Do you acknowledge there would still be a large black market? There would be some people who would want it. You are not talking about it being made generally available?
  (Ms Williams) I would not think there would be a large black market, there would be a diminished market. There may still be a residual market but much diminished.

  1462. There would be large leakage, would there not? There was a time in the 60s, and before, when heroin was available on prescription and one of the things that happened, one of reasons why the law was changed was because doctors were over-prescribing or being tricked into over-prescribing and so a black market developed not very far away from their surgery door. Would the same thing happen again?
  (Ms Williams) We do not use that as an excuse not to prescribe methadone, we try and control that. It is the same thing. It is still an addictive substance, it can be seen to be just as lethal, if not more dangerous, than prescribing clean diamorphine.

  1463. Do you think the number of kids in Stockton taking heroin would grow or diminish or stay the same?
  (Ms Williams) I hope that now the education is starting to kick in that things will get better and things will start to diminish.

  1464. We cannot hope, we would be in real trouble if we were to go down this line and it turned out that a lot more people ended up being addicted than presently are?
  (Ms Williams) I do not think you would see a rise in addiction. I think a lot of people would use this as a means to reduce their intake of heroin and try and come off by using clean heroin, instead of methadone, which is a much more difficult substance to detox from.

  1465. Right. One of the things we have been told from several sources, including school teachers, and as a result of an opinion poll, is that a number of kids give the reason for not taking illegal drugs as the fact that they are illegal. Not all of them, but say it is 15 per cent or 20 per cent, that is quite a lot, is it not? Do you think if it was legal that would remove one barrier?
  (Ms Williams) I am not sure. I have to give that answer because we have not tried it, so I am not sure. I hope, again, I do not think so, but you know—

  1466. The other difficulty is we have been invited to travel down a road that no other country, as we know, has taken, therefore you will understand why we all need to think carefully about where the trail leads.
  (Ms Williams) I just think on humanitarian grounds to prescribe controlled diamorphine to people that are really sick and need it is not a signal to encourage people to take it.
  (Mr Sims) I am constantly reminded about a Committee sitting in this House in 1926 which said, "Drug use is a problem to be solved and not a sin to be punished". I am mindful in response to this that were the Committee, for example, merely to focus—I understand it has this remit—on changes in the law I do not think that would be enough. There would need to be equivalent attention paid to education, prevention and treatment. If you did one without any of those other pieces you would be flying on hope and not on any kind of practice or experience. I think they are all needed.

  1467. Given the world as it is and not as we would wish it to be, if we did what is being suggested, what do you think, do you think more or less kids would take drugs?
  (Mr Sims) I do not know. I do not know. In things like opinion polls I tend to be rather suspicious of results. Evidence is what you make it, I guess, as you discovered in this Committee, in terms of opinion polls in particular and in terms of focus groups. As somebody who has been trained in and conducts both those instruments how you ask the question determines what answer you get.

  1468. There are a lot of people in this building who realise that. Mr Gillespie, what do you think would happen?
  (Mr Gillespie) I have to confess, Chairman, I smiled a little when you mentioned the fact that when children were asked at school one of the reasons they did not take drugs was because it was illegal, I think that would be the first answer I would give as well, because it is the one that is expected. I am not sure that really means anything at all. To your second point, would there be an upsurge in addiction? You might imagine this is a question I have asked myself many times, because I would not come here today lightly in front of a public committee, with the press present knowing full well, "Dead junkie's Dad says drugs are okay", I am not saying that at all. I shall be most upset if anybody even suggests that at all behind me. I do not think there will be an upsurge in drugs. I have spoken to many police officers since my son died, I have made a point of getting among drug users in various places in London, Ipswich, Glasgow and Edinburgh, I have been all round the place, and I think that the people who use drugs will be the same people who use alcohol or tobacco, or whatever. As I said earlier, I do not think there is a great dam about to burst and we will all get blasted out of our minds because politicians admit that drugs are safer. We are not saying it is okay, we are saying what you are going to get is not going to kill you any more. While there is life there is hope. That is all. As Mr Sims rightly said, the education and treatment thing goes along with it, it is not just saying, you know, let us have control of the drugs market, take it out of the hands of the criminals, it is also saying, let us take all of the money we are spending in the criminal justice system in trying to prevent something that is not preventible, it is like the weather, and move that money. As Mrs Watkinson said, "Does the government not have a duty to protect people?" It has a duty to protect the people who have been mugged and robbed and stolen from—that is a terrible phrase—to fund drug habits. That need not happen if we actually get in the driving seat here and control this thing, which is going right of out of control at the moment.

  1469. It would happen to some extent?
  (Mr Gillespie) In what respect?

  1470. Even if you bought prescribed drugs and had no income or a very small one you have to raise the money to pay for that?
  (Mr Gillespie) Why would you not have any income?

  1471. As we have heard some of them are children as young as 13.
  (Mr Gillespie) What, using drugs?

  1472. Yes.
  (Mr Gillespie) That would be illegal, would it not, that is the point I am making?

  1473. Are you saying there should be an age limit?
  (Mr Gillespie) Absolutely. The same way as there is with alcohol and tobacco.

  1474. There will still be a black market.
  (Mr Gillespie) The same black market you have with alcohol and tobacco. I remember Senator Armistrad, I think it was, back in the 1930s when they were trying to remove prohibition arguing very strongly against it, and the bootleggers were saying, "No, we have a better business" and other people saying, "No, no stop it". It did not happen. I think these are obstacles to what I see as the pursuit of principle, which is if we want to really, really seriously address the drugs issue and prevent other parents having to go through the absolute hell that people here have had to go through then we look to our law makers and our policy makers to protect our children to make sure that it is not criminals who rule their lives or the criminal system or a legal system that does not work properly. I have the right if I drink this water to know it has been controlled. We have substances lying round London and all over our country, all over the world that are not controlled by anybody simply because the UN Convention of 1961 puts in governments' hands a powerful tool that it is unwilling to give up. Until that is in some way amended then we are going to be left with the consequences and I do not think we should be. I think we should be in charge of this and not criminals.

  1475. You make a very powerful case and others who have been before us make the same case. If it is as obvious as many people think it is why do you think no other country in the world has gone down that road?
  (Mr Gillespie) Because their hands are tied by the UN Convention. Uncle Sam is going to make quite sure they are not going to do what they do not want them to do. It is as simple as that.
  (Mrs Humphreys) In some countries, like Portugal, it is no longer a criminal offence for possession of any drug. A lot of European countries are looking, it is not true that we would be the first, we have got a bit of catching up to do.

  1476. On legalisation I was talking about.
  (Mr Gillespie) Portugal is just decriminalisation.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Right. Yes, they are moving in that direction and they are not using it as a criminal thing all the time like we do.

  1477. In a week or two's time we are going to have a witness from Sweden here. He is going to tell us the opposite of what you are saying.
  (Mrs Humphreys) I know.

  1478. He is going to say it works.
  (Mrs Humphreys) I had a Norwegian or someone who rang me up once and he said "Yes, we do not have a drug problem much in Sweden yet but they just have not caught up." The fact is they have a huge alcohol problem among young children, very, very bad.

  1479. We will ask him about that.
  (Mrs Humphreys) That will be interesting, yes.
  (Mr Gillespie) Sorry, Chairman, on the other side, I think it is memorandum 48 from your list of evidence, the Netherlands Drug Policy Unit, said the opposite. Their evidence is that cannabis has not proved to be a gateway drug, there has been no increase in use, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, so they are saying something else. Again, you have to look at Sweden but to be absolutely fair to them, it is a bit out of the way and a bit chilly and cold. Alcohol may be more important to them than heroin.

  1480. If anything that makes people more inclined to substance abuse I should think. Mr Gillespie, Mr Sims, Mrs Humphreys and Ms Williams, thank you very much for coming. It has been an extremely stimulating session.

  (Mr Gillespie) Thank you very much for allowing us to speak.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Thank you for the opportunity.
  (Mr Gillespie) It is much appreciated.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 May 2002