Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility


  1.  The terms of reference of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility require it "to co-ordinate the thought and action of the Church in matters affecting the life of all in society". The Board reports to the Archbishops' Council and, through it, to the General Synod.

  2.  The Board warmly welcomes the Home Affairs Committee decision to hold an investigation into the Government's drugs policy. We have given evidence in the past to the Runciman Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We have also exchanged correspondence with Mr Keith Hellawell, the United Kingdom Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator, and discussed the possibility of the Church of England playing a part in the Government strategy on drugs.

  3.  Our submission will build on the submission which we made to the Runciman Inquiry, as well as other submissions made to the Home Office on criminal justice policy. Details of many of these can be found on our web site There are four points which we wish to make to the Committee. These relate to the importance of aftercare; the need for a public debate, which is as wide as possible; the position of cannabis; and the prescription of heroin to addicts by doctors under licence.

  4.  The issue of after-care strongly concerns us. We welcome the shift in the Government's policy, outlined in the Second National Plan 2000-2001 of the Anti Drugs Co-Coordinator. On page 23 the report speaks of a large increase of financial provision for treatment from 1998-2001, and sets key performance targets for 2005 and 2008. These are to increase participation in drug treatment programmes by 65 per cent by 2005, and 100 per cent by 2008. In our evidence to the Runciman inquiry on 11 March 1998 we said "the problem with funding and aftercare of clients runs through all the evidence we have received". It is good to see how far the Government has moved on this issue, but it is still the case that there is a great shortage of qualified drug workers, especially in London. We know from personal experience that many Rehabilitation Clinics are often full to capacity, have long waiting lists, and are not able to readmit clients if they relapse in the first few months after discharge, even if they have in depth knowledge of this client. Aftercare provision is often mixed, and there is a particular problem with co-ordinating rehabilitation provision in prison with non-custodial agencies outside.

  5.  Our second point concerns public debate. The General Synod held its first debate into drugs in July 1998, assisted by a report written by an authority in the field, the Rev Dr Kenneth Leech, who founded Centrepoint in the 1960s. We have followed up this event by holding debates in the majority of Church of England dioceses, and by establishing a network for youth offices and others concerned with the issue. We wish to encourage as much public debate as possible on this issue, and therefore support the initiative of one of our Board members, Professor Helen Leathard in making her own submission. Our own submission comes to different conclusions from hers, but we wish to emphasise the need for a far more widespread debate than has so far taken place. We therefore applaud the decision of the Committee to hold this Inquiry.

  6.  Our final two points concern the availability of drugs. We support the Runciman Inquiry's recommendations on pages 115-116 of their report that "the possession of cannabis should not be an imprisonable offence." (Para 77 ii). We also wish to support some of the cogent argument of Peter Lilley MP in his Audenshaw Paper 193, where he says that inebriation is regarded as a sin because it can lead to more serious wrongdoing. Alcohol inebriation has long been associated with violence in some cases, and it is possible that cannabis abuse could sometimes have harmful effects. However that is a matter for personal responsibility, guided by moral imperatives. Abuse, which is a sin, is not necessarily a crime: adultery is wrong, but it is not a crime. Murder is both a sin and a crime, by definition. We believe that it is time to decriminalise the possession of cannabis, for the following reasons. It leads to disrespect for the law among young people; it is enforced in a random manner; there is no link between cannabis and the use of hard drugs except for a tiny minority, which is a point Dr Leech has repeatedly made (Drugs and The Church page 17). Indeed the criminalisation of cannabis makes the association with hard drugs perversely more likely. Legislation is being used here to govern morality, and the indication is that it sets up greater problems in the future. We do take seriously the point that young people may be encouraged to use cannabis more heavily if this legislative change takes place, and we believe that even greater drug education is necessary in schools and with young people. We therefore support the Runciman Inquiry on the question of decriminalisation.

  7.  Our final concern is about the free availability of heroin for addicts under licence from registered medical centres. This is a technical area, and we are aware of the controversy in this field. Nevertheless we believe that there is compelling evidence that some addicts reject methadone for illegally obtained heroin. We support the call by Release for a greater number of doctors who are licensed to prescribe heroin. This follows the success of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health programme since 1998 in reducing crime: HIV and hepatitis C; unemployment and family problems by prescribing heroin to 1,000 addicts. We recognise that some Christians will only accept an abstinence policy, but our belief is that tragically is it better to support a harm reduction programme, even if it accepts the possibility of long-term dependence.

September 2001

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 December 2001