Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report



39.  The Government's response to illegal substance misuse has been to produce, in April 1998, a National Strategy, Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, to target four main areas of drug-related harm in a concerted manner. While we appreciate that a ten-year strategy should not be expected to bear all of its fruit after only three years, we believe that the three-year appraisal provides a useful point at which to assess whether or not the original strategy aims are in need of adjustment.

40.  The aim of the Strategy is to target the problems related to drug use pragmatically, through four main aims addressing Young People, Treatment, Communities and Availability. In 2000, targets were set for each aim as they became part of the Action Against Illegal Drugs Public Service Agreement:

  • Aim 1 Young people—To help young people resist drug misuse.

    Target—To reduce the proportion of people under the age of 25 reporting the use of Class A drugs by 25% by 2005 and by 50% by 2008.
  • Aim 2 Communities—To protect communities from drug-related anti-social and criminal behaviour.

    Target—To reduce levels of repeat offending amongst drug misusing offenders by 25% by 2005 and by 50% by 2008.
  • Aim 3 Treatment—To enable people with drug problems to overcome them.

    Target—To increase the participation of problem drug misusers in drug treatment programmes by 55% by 2004, by 66% by 2005 and by 100% by 2008.
  • Aim 4 Availability—To disrupt the supply of drugs.

    Target—To reduce the availability of Class A drugs by 25% by 2005 and by 50% by 2008.[44]


41.  The targets have been criticised for being unmeasurable and insufficiently grounded in evidence. A survey conducted for the Committee by DrugScope, of its 900 member organisations, found that drug strategy targets are "unrealistic and unworkable".[45] The Government appears to concede that the targets are flawed. Mr Ainsworth told us:

    "When we drew up the Drug Strategy, I do not think anybody felt or claimed that every single piece of it was pinned down, that we had evidence to back up targets in every case¼some of the targets, it was openly acknowledged at that point, were aspirational and I do not criticise that because there was a necessity to get people focussed and to force them to work together...some of those targets are extremely difficult to apply a baseline and a form of measurability to be able to say in a critical way that we are or we are not on target...we need to develop credible baselines, we need to make certain that what we are reaching for is in some way achievable".[46]

42.  We believe it is unwise, not to say self-defeating, to set targets which have no earthly chance of success. We recommend (1) that the Government distinguishes explicitly between aspirational and measurable targets; (2) that it focuses on outcomes rather than processes as indicators of success and that where a process is intended to lead to a particular outcome, the basis for expecting this be explained, with evidence; and (3) that baselines are established as soon as possible for all targets.


43.  The Committee has been offered varying opinions on the success of government policy since 1998, as measured by self-imposed targets and other indicators. Mr Keith Hellawell told the Committee that the Government's work "is a strategy which is laudable, will take time to work and it is working".[47] In fact many witnesses have paid tribute to the success of the strategy in bringing together the disparate professions and fields of expertise working on different aspects of drug-related problems in an effective management structure. Mr Mike Trace, former Deputy UK Anti Drugs Co-ordinator, cited the National Strategy as an example to the international community: "The structure and approach of the UK strategy has been seen as a model by the international community which has been emulated since by many countries (eg [Republic of Ireland], Portugal, Czech Republic)".[48]

44.  Witnesses have been less impressed, however, with outcomes. Mr Trace told the Committee in evidence that neither the target on young people nor that on availability was likely to be achieved.[49] Others have expressed similarly negative views:

    "If we judge whether the existing drugs policy is working by measurable reductions in the number of people who use drugs, the number who die or suffer harm as a result, the supply of drugs, the amount of crime committed to get money to buy drugs and the organised criminality involved in transporting and supplying drugs, then we have to say that the results are not coming through" (The Association of Chief Police Officers).[50]

    "The strategy had four main outcome objectives in 1998 and all four of those have moved in the opposite direction to the one the strategy said it would over the succeeding four years. There was not a single year in the 1990s when one could be hopeful about the progress of the drugs problem in this country. I see absolutely no rational basis for thinking that might be different in the next three years" (Mr Francis Wilkinson, recently retired Chief Constable of Gwent).[51]

45.  While there has been a degree of consensus that the desired results have not yet transpired from the strategy, evidence has been divided on the reasons for this. Mr Conor McNicholas, editor of Musik magazine, told us that "the changes that Keith Hellawell made in policy really were moving deckchairs on the Titanic, the whole system is not working at all and what he was doing was just tweaking".[52] Those who agree with this see the only way of improving strategy is complete overhaul. Mr Danny Kushlick of Transform told us: "Given we know a prohibition-based, a criminal justice-orientated drugs policy is doomed to failure, what is the point of continuing with it, when it contributes to death, misery, crime, the funding of the international mafia, the destruction of developing countries?".[53]

46.  Others disagree, seeing failure in implementation not principle, and therefore seeing the way forward in the redoubling of efforts and remaking of commitments. The National Drug Prevention Alliance told us:

    "Does existing drugs policy work? Yes, as an adequate definition of goals and the means to achieve them. It suffers in the delivery, both by lack of commitment in some aspects as well as by assault from those who prefer a more libertarian approach...The alternative to law relaxation is to do the job properly...Effectiveness is being undercut by ideology and 'turf' disputes. Sort this and you will sort most of it".[54]

44   Ev 1. Back

45   Ev 81. Back

46   Q. 1304. Back

47   Q. 114. Back

48   Ev 181. Back

49   Ev 182. Back

50   Ev 23. Back

51   Q. 410. Back

52   Q. 199. Back

53   Q. 199. Back

54   Ev 138-9. Back

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